After only two months, we're learning a lot about how our customers are using Clearspace and what immediate results it has made on their organization. I wanted to share some things we've heard so far:
*1. Co-workers' contributions matter*
People have told us that moving to Clearspace -- a single collaboration platform -- has vastly amplified the importance of <span style="font-style: italic">who</span> is participating and <span style="font-style: italic">what</span> value they add. This has been very different for them than their previous point solutions like wikis and/or really hard-to-use platforms like Microsoft Sharepoint. The analogy we've heard is that people's identity is in a way, a bit like the notion of identity on Ebay. Since Ebay is a single, open marketplace, the glue that holds it all together are the reputations and integrity of the sellers and buyers. If areas of Ebay were walled off, people could be a jerk in one area and the people in the other areas wouldn't know it. That anonymity is a problem that Clearspace solves. When previously siloed content from wikis, forums, email, or instant messaging is unlocked and opened, suddenly what people say and do matters a whole lot more because their contributions are attached to a single identity.
*2. Silence is broken and new "go to" talent discovered*
When everyone is working on the same platform, people feel compelled to participate because it's easy and because they fear they will "miss out." This allows you to know where <span style="font-style: italic">everyone's </span>attention is. Unlike in meetings, where a few people dominate the discussion, in Clearspace people can thoughtfully participate without fear of being put on the spot, or needing to have an immediate answer. Think about how much untapped, immeasurable value is lost because people don't feel like they have the time, permission or confidence to speak up. Customers have been amazed at how many talented people they've discovered reading the internal blogs in Clearspace. We've noticed this here at Jive Software.
*3. People in different departments (and even different companies) make good ideas better*
As simple as this sounds, opening up dialog between people in different teams makes a huge impact. Ideas are shaped and refined by an expanded group of people with different skill sets and backgrounds. For example, one customer told us a story about how the Marketing team was thinking about doing a certain promotion and people in Sales chimed in and shared war stories that helped the Marketing team re-direct what they were going to do. Then one of the partners who had been given access to that collaboration area chimed in with even more specific ideas for what they had seen be successful. And so on. Extending the Enterprise beyond departments and even organizations can improve ideas tenfold. Of course, the fact that you can wall off areas of Clearspace if you need to, is a big plus, too.
*4. Answers found in fast and unexpected ways*
A unified tagging system, topic organization, and search system makes it easy to find content. But, it's really how fast you can build assets that's shocking. Here's an example that happened here at Jive -- a prospect called our Sales folks and had a very specific list for how we'd measure up against Microsoft Sharepoint 2003. Our salesperson posted the list in our internal instance of Clearspace and immediately one of our engineers saw it and filled in most of the blanks. Then someone from Professional Services chimed in with some added content. Same thing with Marketing and Support. In 30 minutes the salesperson had a ton of answers to the original post and all she had to do was click "convert to document," which pulled the individual comments into a wiki-document. Then she stripped everything out except the valuable answers. Immediately, she had something to send back to the prospect and all of us had reusable document to call upon later. Typically, a question like this would be emailed to many people and it would take days to get a one-dimensional answer, if an answer was found at all. For some reason, people see a lot of people CC'd and everyone thinks someone else is responsible. But when everyone can see no one has yet answered, people take action.
5. Even the "old school" use it
We often hear how much people like the fact that Clearspace is built for everyone to use, not just the techies. A lot of people have trouble with application wikis because you have to be very technical (or an information designer) to use them--that is, if they even know what a wiki is. Wikimarkup is great for people who love code -- but not meant for everyone else. Palm's proprietary handwriting language should have taught us no one wants to learn a new language just to participate. That said, most newer wiki products are switching to allow both wiki syntax and gui editors for this very reason. Many of our customers have tried wikis only to find all their wiki pages grew out of control, since everyone had a different idea on how to "self organize" all that content. Not everything has a simple way to organize information like Wikipedia. In fact, we've gotten several emails from potential customers looking to convert thousands of pages into something they can digest and use. Wikis are definitely an important part of the overall tapestry of collaboration, but so far, our customers love that Clearspace provides an easy structure so the content doesn't turn into a confusing rat's nest of pages and people can still create content the way they like (not to mention find it again).
6. Unifying by topic keeps focus
A main feature of Clearspace is that it unifies all types of content by subject vs content type. So, if a company decides to start a subject called "Gizmo Pro," all the content that's appropriate for the Gizmo Pro can be created and revealed in that area. Too often the same issues, questions, and ideas occur in walled-off channels. Companies set up a wiki, a forum, a blog and their own sites and "Gizmo Pro" content lives in all those areas with no unification. So questions are asked over and over. Ideas are only exposed to a few or they wither away, masked off from the people who could really help. Being able to focus any type of content (like binary files, pictures, videos) on things like "Gizmo Pro" is a massive benefit that our Clearspace customers always find immediately valuable.
7. How you use email will change
People love to proclaim the death of other things. Radio was supposed to kill books. TV was supposed to kill radio. The Internet was supposed to kill TV. The truth is, new mediums just help evolve old mediums. Email isn't going away any time soon. That said, early Clearspace customers have felt like their email volume has dropped as much as 75% (though that was a feeling vs. a statistic) and the emails they do receive, or send to others, are much more purposeful. Interestingly, most of those have to do with "the outside world" that aren't in their Clearspace environment. More to come on this one.
8. Easier to stay on top of what's happening
When discussions occur only in email or in the hall, only those invited get to know about it. Many companies have told us that the more they saw the value in opening up discussions and content in Clearspace, the more everyone did it and the more everyone could then tell what was happening across the company. Many have even told us that they're becoming annoyed when people send them emails that should really just be discussions inside Clearspace.
9. Microsoft Office gets used less
Once people get used to creating content in an open system, going back to launching different applications for different content types quickly becomes annoying. Not to mention being on the receiving side of someone who points you to a Microsoft Word document. Ultimately, you just want to see the content in with everything else rather than that content living in sealed container.
10. Clearspace removes tons of cost and management
As salesy as it sounds, the practical reality is that with a company standardizing on Clearspace, there's no need for all those separate collaborative applications. At $29/$39 per user per year it's been a massive cost savings for our customers. Not to mention that IT absolutely loves that it's truly an enterprise-class J2EE application with permissions, moderation, clustering, version management, and security. Engineering just wants a wiki? No problem, they just enable that content for that department from a single, web-based console. Sales just wants discussions and blogging -- IT can just check some boxes. Same thing with the look of the application. With easy CSS changes, the entire application can have a drastically different look and feel so that it melds seamlessly with the style that everyone is already used to. This means departments don't go running off to purchase a one-off hosted application that has no integration with everything else -- the IT department can make them just as happy.