Enterprise wiki vendor SocialText rolled out version 2.0 of its software this morning and made a couple of changes that are important for people beyond its existing customer base. The changes include a drastic overhaul to the standard wiki interface and the release of a REST API to enable mashups with the company’s wikis.
SocialText has been in the market for four years. The 30 employee company has more than 2,000 customers and received funding from an all-star cast including Draper Fisher Jurvetson, SAP Ventures, the Omidyar Foundation, Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Whales, Tim Draper, Joi Ito and SocialText’s Ross Mayfield make up the company’s board of directors.
The new version of the software engages head on with what has been the biggest problem for SocialText and wikis in general; user interfaces have been awful. Today SocialText has added a number of features intended to make adoption by nontechnical users particularly easy.
Users will see a new dashboard immediately upon login that displays recent changes, their watchlist, information from across all work groups that user is participating in and a whiteboard shared with co-workers.
There’s been all kinds of navigation and sorting capabilities added throughout the site; including autosuggest for tagging and inbound links highlighted. Full screen page editing is the last thing that’s been added to the UI that’s important. While a WYSIWYG GUI helps many new users feel more comfortable with wikis than they would otherwise, the need to edit inside the shrunken text box that many web2.0 tools demand can mitigate the impact of the GUI. Give people a full page to write on and they feel like they’re in Word.
All of these UI changes could be summarized by saying that SocialText users no longer have to feel stuck in wikispace – there are now familiar and high-level perspectives available from which to interact with the wiki functionality. The company has made a good screencast demonstrating much of these changes.
The other big news about the new SocialText is the release of a REST API for developers interested in mashing up SocialText wikis with other data and services. The API has already been used to create an off-line SocialText client and at least one Google Maps mashup. A SOAP API has been available from SocialText for some time.
While APIs are not uncommon in the consumer wiki space (see the excellent PBWiki, for example, who just released an API this week) SocialText’s open source enterprise APIs are just the most recent of a long list of valuable contributions they’ve made to the online community. From donating their open source WYSIWYG toolbar to the world (a resource intensive thing to build from scratch) to offering free hosted wikis to important projects like Mary Hodder’s Speakers Wiki (a list of tech speakers, many women, for conference organizers to refer to) SocialText has a history of authentic actions exemplifying the “give more/get more” ethic.
While there are any number enterprise wikis available, Mayfield told me that he expects demand for wikis to explode in the next year as Microsoft and IBM enter the market in force. Once wiki style online collaboration becomes an all the more common practice, Mayfield believes that SocialText’s exclusive focus on wikis, four years of experience in the sector, open source technology and straight forward pricing structure will continue to set them apart from the competition. To that list the company can now add improved ease of use and hopefully a diverse ecosystem of outside mashups via the REST API.
Other companies won’t stand still and the current state of ghastly wiki UIs can’t possibly last, but SocialText has been laying down open source roots for four years that will be hard for competitors to unearth.