As we were posting about Red Hat and Clearspace yesterday, we picked up another fantastic customer
CNET. CNET has always been a pioneer in content and community-driven innovation. Their business is to "build on the collective wisdom of people" and for sure their huge network of media properties has always been innovators at doing just that. For some time now they've united content around productwhat their editors think, their readers, marketers, bloggers, discussions...all of those different content types deployed in a way that helps users evaluate and participate to make informed decisions. They were attracted to Clearspace as a unified product vs many different point solutions to help them provide a collaboration environment that can scale to the next level. We're excited to see what their creative minds do with Clearspace.
!http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/red_hat_logo.thumbnail.png!Now that the beta of Clearspace is public, we wanted to share some news that we've been sitting on for a while. Incredibly, the folks at Red Hat purchased Clearspace and became our first customer back in December while we were in Alpha. And even more cool is that they actually purchased it for a very cool project. Their involvement along side our alpha development really helped further focus us and provide another point of external feedback. A big thanks to them. They're a great team working on very cool stuff.
Just for fun, I ran a usage report on our Wildfire server over the weekend. Using the archiving feature in Wildfire Enterprise, I logged how many conversations each Jive employee has participated in since we turned on stats tracking at the end of May last year. We use the light-weight archiving mode, which only records metadata about each conversation and not the actual messages being sent back and forth. Organizations subject to compliance requirements can also turn on full message archiving.
A conversation is defined as the string of messages sent back and forth without a significant time gap (15 minutes by default). The top ten users are as follows:
Yes, I'm totally addicted to IM, with an average of about 47 conversations every business day. The rest of the company isn't far behind, with almost everyone else not in the top ten falling between two to three thousand conversations. It represents a staggering amount of email that we didn't have to send, as we've found that each IM conversation can represent several emails (getting a question answered over email can take several messages back and forth). That also means we've saved a lot of time, which means we've all worked more efficiently. We already think "email is the new snail mail" here at Jive. How does your company use IM?
We're happy to announce the public beta of Clearspace. We've been using Clearspace in our office for a while now and a number of customers have been testing it as well. It's really exciting to see it in use, especially here at Jive. We're really taken with the blogging features.
There are two ways to try Clearspace: as a standalone server or as a WAR file you can drop in your own appserver. There is a README to check out which lists some of the known issues. We have a feedback forum set up as well, which we'll transition to a support forum when the final release is out. We'll also launch our public issue tracker soon, watch the feedback page for more details. The final version will be out soon!
On the heels of my last post, which was more critical of the competition than most of my posts (bordering on chest-puffing), I thought I would follow up with some things I like about those applications and companies. Since none of the products are out yet, it's only based on what I've seen and read. But all of them have a lot going for them.
Microsoft Sharepoint: The Excel Services features allows means you can display spreadsheets as HTML within the browser. I've needed this for years. People don't need to have Excel installed, and you can offload some of the resource-intensive calculations to the server. Also, they allow for web services so you can build custom apps that use the calculation logic. Great feature.
SuiteTwo: I haven't seen the product yet, but it's quite a line-up of talent contributing to that product. All great companies with proven track records. I know the SpikeSource folks fairly well, and not only are they talented technically, but they are the rocket scientists of partnerships. If any company is going to bring the right folks together and nail the integration, it's them.
Lotus Connections: From what I've seen, Dogear is a great implementation of social bookmarking, whereby Connections can build up a rich understanding of people based on what they bookmark. It gives users a fundamentally different view of what's happening in the organization and provides the basis for strong connections with other employees that wouldn't happen otherwise. Also, IBM has been using it internally for awhile, which is always one of the best ways to perfect a product. A great example of IBM's ability to bring their big brains to a product that people will love.
If you haven't been reading the latest technology trade rags, IBM just launched a new application called Lotus Connections, a social networking product. We've known about it for awhile (it's been called the Ventura project), but it's finally seeing the light of day. We're excited to add another company to the field of players.
Who are the Players Now?
1. Microsoft Sharepoint: Taking a very file system centric view to collaboration, but building a lot of similar functionality for 2007. However, it's a behemoth of an application with a lot of moving pieces and integration code. Not much room for innovation.
2. SuiteTwo: A project with Intel, SpikeSource and a host of other companies providing best-of-breed point solutions. Deep features because of all the individual products, but very difficult to connect the applications in any meaningful way. What Sam here at Jive calls a " Franken-suite".
3. Lotus Connections: It's similar to Clearspace in a lot of respects, but it leans on the social networking over the content creation. Connections has some tools we don't have yet like tasks and social bookmarking. And like the other products, "Connections" is a result of bringing together formerly disconnected tools (described in the Reuters article as " stitched together") as opposed to being built from the ground up as a single product on one architecture.
How does Clearspace fit in?
The unified architecture is one of the most important elements. It has been built from the ground up with this type of collaboration in mind, so it's easy to use, customize, integrate, grow and to support deep collaboration. Other big differentiators include:
An "external edition" for customers and partners (coming soon)
Deep discussion and blogging functionality
User-friendly wiki documents
Transporting content from one tool to another
Available source code
Real-time editing of documents
Integrated real-time messaging
That's just a quick cursory list. But still, this Connections the closest product we've seen to what Clearspace is doing and it's a fantastic validation of our approach. It may be competitive in some engagements, but IBM will be a lot more focused on MSFT than Jive. And the more important point is that this means there's hundreds of millions of marketing dollars behind the space -- a large wave whose wake we are more than happy to ride. Given the differentiators above, I'm thrilled about the move.
First to Market!
One of the other nice differentiators is that all these products have made big announcements, but nothing has hit the market yet...and probably won't for awhile. In fact, you'll be able to download the Clearspace beta this week.
IBM is a big customers of ours, and have become good friends along the way. They were even an advisory contributor to the development of Clearspace. They've got some really smart people and this is a very promising move on their part. I couldn't be happier to add them to the list.
Out of all the things that I've had a hand working on for Clearspace (and that's a lot) the one that I've found to be the most challenging and frustrating to implement would have to be the new wiki syntax support. As many of you are aware wiki syntax is a very useful (and fast) way to markup text to create things like lists, tables, links and styles without having to type html. We looked at a variety of existing wiki markup syntaxes and decided on a syntax that was as common as possible. It's very fast to use once you've know the syntax - and potentially a deal breaker to new users who don't want or have the time to learn the syntax no matter how simple it may be. Thus in Clearspace we decided it would be best to allow documents to be created in one of two ways - using a graphical editor (IE or Firefox) or a plain text editor with preview functionality.
[existing wiki markup syntaxes|http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/create.png]
Since users will have the ability to switch between the two editors we needed a way to convert the html content generated from the GUI editor into the wiki syntax supported by the plain text editor and vice versa. It was this requirement that proved to be the source of many frustrating hours stepping through code trying to isolate yet another bug.
Not surprisingly we couldn't find an open source wiki syntax implementation that met all of the requirements so we had to roll our own. Our existing rendering solution found in Jive Forums proved not to be up to the task so we had to design one from scratch to meet the new requirements. Before that though we had to evaluate and test a variety of html parsers to facilitate the conversion from the html syntax generated from the GUI editor back into the wiki syntax. We settled on a flexible and extremely fast parser from the open source Sitemesh project which we modified slightly to suit the requirements. Spending the time to research and choose the right tools proved to be a life saver - it allowed us to handle the "wikification" of the html in a very clean manner.
Once the tools were chosen we created the API for the new render system and started writing the implementation. As you can see from the following code the general use case is fairly straightforward for generating html from the stored wikified text:
RenderManager rManager = jiveContext.getRenderManager(); String htmlText = rManager.render(doc, RenderType.DOCUMENT_BODY, wikifiedText);
Going the other way from html to wiki text requires a bit more work but is also fairly straightforward:
RenderStrategy strategy = new RenderStrategy( RenderTarget.TARGET_PLAIN_TEXT, RenderStrategy.RENDER_ALL); RenderManager rManager = jiveContext.getRenderManager(); String wikifiedText = rManager.render(doc, RenderType.DOCUMENT_BODY, strategy, htmlText);
Getting it all right though required a lot of time and a large number of test cases to work out the bugs. Without these test cases I'm sure some of the more subtle bugs that cropped up would never have been caught. I'm very proud of the outcome of all this work - it's going to be a great feature as well as the basis of quite a bit of new functionality in future releases of Clearspace.
Since we've announced Clearspace, we have had a lot of people ask about its relationship to wikis: Is it a wiki? Does it have a wiki? How does it work with other wikis? Here's a little insight on Clearspace and wikis and how we see them co-existing.
For those of you who don't know what a wiki is (and suprisingly a lot of people still don't know), according to wikipedia: "A wiki is a website that allows the visitors themselves to easily add, remove, and otherwise edit and change some available content, sometimes without the need for registration. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for mass collaborative authoring."
As part of our research, we found that a good portion of our customers have been using wikis for a while and while they love the ease of authoring and collaborative aspects, they didn't love how unstructured, hard to control and how quickly all the content becomes jumbled and lost. Not to mention, they felt that their wikis were a bit too "techie" for the entire company and that there were many administrative and enterprise-performance issues. Plus they were looking for something bigger than a single point solution. That's why they asked us to incorporate some of the same principles into the structured content systems they were using from us. "Combine a wiki with a knowledge base" was essentially the message -- quick editing, wiki syntax and co-authoring mixed with workflow, metadata and easy navigation.
Structure: As mentioned above, this is the main difference between the two. The wiki-style features in Clearspace are meant to build documents, not a website. And the system as a whole is organized around teams, departments, or communities of practice, so it's designed to become an organizational content system--a place where content never hides.
Check out the screenshots below. Before even getting to the wiki functionality, Clearspace organizes and filters content so that people can find the content they're looking for. Note that wiki-documents (the orange "page" icon) is content that coexists with ongoing discussions, new blog posts and uploaded files.
[according to wikipedia|http://www.jivesoftware.com/images/screenshots/devteam.png]
Now, here's a wiki-page. This one has been published and is currently being edited. The wiki portion has the orange background and as you can see, is treated more as a document within the application vs. everything being the wiki (application). We think this will be great as certain wiki-documents could get "template-ized." Sort of like what Notes tried to..cough...do.
[according to wikipedia|http://www.jivesoftware.com/images/screenshots/realtimewiki.png]
Applications: Wikis are great at going deep with application features (application wikis). There's a ton you can do with a wiki and when people need powerful features that build out their wiki-driven websites they'll want to buy a wiki application. We can see a role for them alongside Clearspace. We plan to have Clearspace expose other wiki application's content so that entire companies can use them to find or participate in editing their content.
Process: Clearspace is all about open collaboration. A big part of that is managing the process around collaboration. Clearspace has fantastic, lightweight yet robust workflow for documents, forums, blogs and users/communities. Its goal is to manage these flows of content intelligently and easily (i.e. without becoming a full ECMS) -- relating content, finding users, notifying the right people at the right time, managing the editing process, real-time co-authoring (conferencing), etc. This is much more akin to Sharepoint than Office.
Wiki applications are a very powerful tool for creating collaborative websites quickly among a team and they provide deep application functionality to perform those functions. Clearspace focuses this level of functionality on documents (wiki-docs) as one part of other powerful content like discussions and blogs within the application. Clearspace is meant to manage collaboration workflows and structured information without the overhead of traditional systems. We've been using it internally for a while now and are positively addicted to it.
We really look forward to sharing it with you all in just a matter of weeks. Not to mention the release party. These guys deserve it.
I had to take a red-eye from Portland out to Boston for some press meetings a few weeks ago. After taking an Ambien while boarding the plane, I got to my seat -- only to realize I was in the last row of the plane. Frequent travelers will recall that the last row is notorious for having seats that don't recline.
Needless to say, I didn't get a wink of sleep even though I was drugged and dopey. (I also grabbed the wrong laptop and the hotel didn't have my reservation. But I did get my Dunkin Donuts fix.)
Still, I managed to get in a pretty good " Hot Seat" videocast interview with the folks at Network World. Check it out if you have time and any interest in seeing how I look after no sleep, and if you want to see some sweet exploding chair graphics.
One of the areas of research that has always fascinated me is searching and linguistics - specifically machine comprehension of human questions. The current level of technology in this field is both very advanced (i.e. Google) and yet at the same time it can be very limited (machines do not really understand the question - it's all algorithms, patterns and the like). In Clearspace we've updated our search code to try and take advantage of as much of the available search technology as we had time to incorporate.
As is true with all our products our core search technology is based upon the excellent Lucene search library which we updated to the latest release to gain some new features and benefits, as well as the usual set of bug fixes. New in Clearspace however is a completely redesigned API around Lucene which provides some clear benefits to what we had available previously. I'd like to highlight a few features that we've added that I think are noteworthy.
Combined search API This means that you can search blog posts, forum messages and wiki documents at once in the same call to the API (or any combination of those). While this may not seem all that much of an improvement it is in fact quite an improvement over how searching was accomplished in the Integrated Server product (our only other product that had multiple content types to search over). When you execute a general search in the Integrated Server you are in fact executing multiple searches at the same time over two separate Lucene indexes - one for kb content, one for forum content. This approach has consequences on performance and flexibility on how search results could be displayed. With the new approach it's faster and provides the ability to simply execute a search and display the results irregardless of the content type of the result.
Find Similar searches We've built into the new API the ability to query on any blog post, message or document to find other content in the system that is similar to the source content object. This is a feature that we've taken full advantage of in many places in the UI to display 'More Like This' type links, helping to automatically link content together.
Pluggability While we do our best to make the searching that is built into Clearspace the best that we can make it we understand that corporations often have existing search implementions that they will want use. Thus we've adopted two approaches that we feel will cover most requirements in this regard. The first is that searching is webservice enabled which allows corporations to easily search Clearspace content from external applications. The second is that the whole core implementation of search in Clearspace is completely pluggable so that if you had a Google search appliance it's quite possible (with some coding of course) to replace the built-in Lucene implementation with one which hooks into your Google appliance.
Distributed searching The search implementation in Clearspace has been written in such a way that we'll be able in the future to allow customers to setup the search system in such a way that they can define a seperate server (or servers) that will be delegated solely to searching. Or, if they do not want to do that they'll have the ability to have search queries be executed in the normal cluster by the server that happens to be the least busy at the moment. While I had only a hand in this work (most credit from this must go to Gaston Dombiak who is probably best known for his work on the Wildfire XMPP server) I think this feature is perhaps one of the technically interesting features we've added. Unfortunately, given time constraints distributed searching will not make it into the initial release of Clearspace - look forward to word of it in future releases.
We have a lot of ideas for future improvements we can make to searching in Clearspace - hopefully I'll be able to find the time to blog about some of those in the future!