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The "Who to Copy?" Phobia

Posted by djhersh Dec 26, 2006

We don't have the hubris to think Clearspace is going to reshape email practices in any profound way. After all, email is still a remarkably efficient medium and still has a "if it ain't broke" layer of protection around it from all its users (it's easy, cheap, standards-based, supports HTML, etc.). That said, we do think it helps with one of the big gripes we heard during the Clearspace design process: knowing who to copy on emails.

 

The "Who to Copy?" Phobia is a Fear of:

  • Copying people that don't want emails. The fear that recipients will just delete the emails and/or get upset about being copied on something useless.

  • Not copying people who should be. The fear that recipients will feel ostracized or controlled if they're not involved.

In either case, the onus is on you-the-sender to come up with the perfect list of email recipients (not to get into who is on the cc: list v. the main list) and not upset the balance of cultural protocol and politics.

 

Shifting the Responsibility

 

By putting the content into the medium best suited for it (news in blogs, "living content" in documents, questions in forums, etc.) and by having a very rich notification system (rss, IM, private messages, etc), you can shift the onus to the recipients and rest easy, knowing that the right people are notified and kept up to date. No more awkward water cooler confrontations about why they weren't included on an email, and if it's a subtle indication that they'll soon be out of a job. Just say, "Update your notifications, Ted!"

 

The email problems Clearspace hopes to chisel away run much deeper than this (workflow, versioning, etc.), but this is one of the "aha!s" that have come out of the User Acceptance Tests and early demos we're doing, and it's fantastic to watch people get excited about how Clearspace can help them.

 

Early on, during one of our Clearspace product development meetings, we (the Clearspace development team) discussed the importance of 'hackable' or 'meaningful' URL's. In other words, if someone sent you a link to a Clearspace blog via IM or email[1|#urls-1], you should be able to figure out a lot about the blog post without viewing it in your browser. So, for example, if my boss Bill sent me an IM that looked like this:

Hey Aaron, check out this blog entry:
http://mysite.com/do/entry?publicid=4B4C0B46DC743154ECB68300531D6A04&token=

I'd probably click on it, but I sure as heck wouldn't know what Bill was sending me too. Is he sending me another link to a blog that discusses the virtues of living in Iowa[2|#urls-2] or is it something work related? I can't tell. If however, he blogged about the link in Clearspace, his IM would look like this:

Hey Aaron, check out this blog entry:
http://mysite.com/blogs/bill/2006/12/19/iowa-jokes/

With only a cursory glance, it should be immediately obvious what this blog post is about (another Iowa joke), when it was posted (December 19th, 2006) and who posted it (Bill).  We can all agree this is 'a good thing', right? Hold on though to your corn husks though, it gets better.

 

Most blog software products in the wild give up at this point: they answer the question of who, what and why by looking at the URL of a single blog post and that's it. Clearspace, on the other hand, goes the extra mile for you.  Wouldn't it be nice to see a list of all of Bill's posts on the 19th of December?

http://mysite.com/blogs/bill/2006/12/19/

or how about all the posts in December?

http://mysite.com/blogs/bill/2006/12/

or 2006[3|#urls-3]?

http://mysite.com/blogs/bill/2006/

What about all his posts that are tagged with 'iowa'?

http://mysite.com/blogs/bill/tags/iowa

Bill's a smart guy, I should subscribe to his blog, I wonder what feeds he has available?

http://mysite.com/blogs/bill/feeds

Great, I can subscribe to all of his posts:

http://mysite.com/blogs/bill/feeds/posts

and a feed of all of his posts that are tagged with 'iowa':

http://mysite.com/blogs/bill/feeds/tags/iowa

but I'd really like those in Atom format rather than the default[4|#urls-4] RSS 2.0 format:

http://mysite.com/blogs/bill/feeds/posts/atom

and it would be nice to easily be able to include a list of his posts on the homepage of our intranet:

http://mysite.com/blogs/bill/feeds/posts/json

So there you have it: hackable and meaningful URL's galore.  If you're interested in learning about how we did it, you can read about the gory details over on my blog.

Now if I could just get Bill to stop sending me links about Iowa.

 

1You're not using still using email are you?

 

2If you consider it a sport to gather your food by drilling through 18 inches of ice and sitting there all day hoping that the food will swim by, you might live in Iowa. (source)

 

3Hat tip to Tim Bray for nice way he implemented URL's on his blog.

 

4Yes, you can switch the default to be Atom.

 

In Clearspace we have a new UI element on every page we're calling the User Bar (pretty creative name no?). The idea behind it is simple: provide a consistent place to get at a number of useful features. The idea is not new -- many sites have it. Often, it's called "Satellite Nav," meaning it's a set of links that are global to each page. They're fixed and never changed.

 

The User Bar has gone though many changes over the course of development. Initially, it was just an ugly set of links at the top of the page. Now it's a great looking set of links, menus and a search box.

 

!http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/toolbox.gif!The User Bar actually started off as the "Toolbox" or "Wallet." The idea was to provide one click for anything you might need. For example, after clicking on the "Toolbox" link a new section would slide down and have information about your profile, links to write new content, history, etc. Over time, the major problem we had with this was that it hid a lot of functionality. We wanted users to easily see their avatar, a profile link and other useful links. So, given this the "Toolbox tab" was scrapped.

 

!http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/toolbox2.gif!Next, the Toolbox turned into a menu item. While the UI was better, this direction still hid a lot of functionality. The biggest reason we decided to not go this route is because it really confused our users. People had wildly different expectations of what a "toolbox" meant.

 

After some serious user testing we decided to make a new bar that acted more like a menu. There would be only a few options to choose from and each one would open up on a mouse click (with a hover effect). Initially each link started out pretty wordy: "New" was "Create Content", "History" was "View History" and "Your Stuff" was "Profile & Tools" (ack!). We spent a lot of time whittling each link down to the fewest words and fewest characters. Now we think we have a pretty useful bar and the links make sense.

 

Here's a shot of what we ended up with:

 

[http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/bill-user-bar.gif]

Both the user's avatar and username are links to the user's profile. The "New" link opens a small menu to create a new discussion, blog post or document from anywhere in the application. "Your Stuff" is a menu all about you: links to your profile, private messages, your blog, drafts, etc. "History" is a useful way to jump around to content you've recently read. Finally, "Communities" is a way to see and go to different communities in the system.

 

What's not shown is the simple search box -- that's on the right next to an icon to get a printable version of any page.

 

We've been using this and we really like where it's ended up. I used to see a lot of hesitation when people would mouse over a link or the old toolbox -- users generally had no idea what the links would do. Now it's much more obvious and people have responded really well.

 

matt

Plugin Support, Finally

Posted by matt Dec 19, 2006

Now that we've added support for plugins to Clearspace and the next version of Jive Forums, it's hard to believe it took us so long to add such a useful and powerful feature. The basic idea behind plugins is to dynamically extend the functionality of the application without having to modify the core source code. For example, our professional services team will use plugins to build custom functionality for clients that is easily portable between different product releases. Plugins will also be used to deliver features that are only useful to a portion of our customers, like Salesforce integration.

 

Plugins have been very successful in Wildfire and our friends from Atlassian has tons of cool plugins in their products. We borrowed a lot of ideas from Wildfire plugins (see the developer guide) in order to create the system in Clearspace and Jive Forums. Of course there are some unique twists as well. For example, if you install a plugin on one node of a Clearspace cluster, the plugin will get automatically pushed to all the other nodes. Developers will also appreciate the fact that plugins can easily override any page or action in the application, which makes some very deep customizations quite easy. Plugins are installed and managed from the admin console:

 

[developer guide|http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/pluginadmin.png|pluginadmin.png]

 

For the launch of Clearspace, we wanted a plugin that would be a great example of what the framework allows. So, we created the WebDAV plugin. WebDAV is a useful protocol for publishing and accessing documents. For example, you can access content through WebDAV using Windows  Explorer or OS X (just like a shared drive):

 

[WebDAV|http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/clearspace-web-view.png|clearspace-web-view.png] [WebDAV|http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/clearspace-webdav-view.png|clearspace-webdav-view.png]

 

For now, the WebDAVplugin provides read-only access to the latest version of documents. In a future version, we'll add write support as well. I'm really looking forward to all the interesting plugins that our engineering team and community members put together!

 

Cat's Out of the Bag

Posted by sam_lawrence Dec 18, 2006

Well, I guess being a featured story on the front page of CNET's News.com, sorta makes it hard to be too stealthy about Clearspace. Check out Martin LaMonica's article about the application (a screenshot of Clearspace is included in his article). It's pretty energizing to be compared to other products from much bigger companies like IBM and Intel.

 

It was also interesting to see the visualization "Big Picture" map that was on the side of the article, too.

 

In my last icon blog, I mentioned the need to have some of the new proprietary Clearspace icons integrate well with the set of icons we were using in the rest of Clearspace. But I only showed the icons for discussion, wiki, and blog and didn't show the way they would work with some other user-facing features. Below are a few more icons a user would see. We think Firewheel Design did a good job of marrying their work with the Silk set.

 

 

Over the last couple months, we've had a number of people[#1] come into the office to give Clearspace a test drive.  We watched while they explored the application  and asked questions. When asked what they thought of just the blogging[#2] part of the application, almost every person said that they liked the individual and team blogs but then said something like, "but blogs are just opinions," insinuating (and sometimes explicitly saying) that white papers, knowledge base articles, wiki documents and forum posts are more valuable and authoritative in a corporate environment than blogs are.

 

I'll be honest: I took it personally every time someone equated blogging with being nothing more than opinions and navel gazing because I think blogs are more valuable and more authoritative than all the white papers, knowledge base articles, wiki documents and forum posts in the world combined[#3]. Am I exaggerating to get your attention?  Yeah. But if you're one of those people who falls into the "blogs = just opinions" camp, consider these broad brush strokes:

 

  • Blogs are authoritative +because +they're transparent. Blogs are generally written by a single person or a small group of people, all of whom you can read about by going to the "about me" or "about us" page on the blog. If the "about us" page doesn't cut it, you can go and read the other blog posts to get a sense of the blogger's background and interests.  Finally, you can use a tool like technorati[4|#3] to see what other people think about the blog. So when you read a blog post, you know who's standing behind it. Conversely, white papers and knowledge base article are faceless and opaque: no one person is standing behind the document saying "this is true."

 

  • Blogs are valuable because they are written by people for people.  White papers, powerpoint presentations, knowledge base articles and wiki documents are written by companies for companies.

  • Blogs are valuable because they're about subjects people care about and take seriously. It's an environment that allows for self-expressionnot like the rest of the applications you'd find in Microsoft Office orack!--things that they have to write about to complete their monthly knowledge base quota.

  • Blogs are widely read because they're not white-washed, corporate-speak. People prefer the truth, it's why a lot of them have stopped watching mainstream news. There's more truth in The Daily Show.

 

What does all this have to do with Clearspace?  Tune in next week for some hot blogging screenshots.

 

By the way, my name is Aaron. I'm an engineer on the Clearspace team and I have a blog.

 

Icons by Fire

Posted by sam_lawrence Dec 13, 2006

As part of our series on "the evolution of" visual elements of Clearspace, we wanted to share a bit of the icon journey. Like all our applications, Clearspace is incredibly customizable. The overall look and feel can be drastically changed with just a touch of CSS. As well, Clearspace's icons can be universally replaced. That said, we take a lot of effort to make sure the application looks great out of the box. For Clearspace's new icons, we employed Firewheel Design to tackle the challenge.

 

The icons

We have used the Silk icon set in the past and like it a lot. But as Clearspace had new content types and functionality, we wanted to arrive at some new icons that worked with Silk but were unique to Clearspace. This ended up being a whole lot harder than we thought. Some of the evolutionthe discussion, blog and wiki iconography is below.

 

The hardest icon was the one for the wiki, which would either look too much like a Word document or too esoteric (the leaf was supposed to represent the organic, growing aspect of wikis). The blog icon was hard too, it started getting a too rss-like. But ultimately, we arrived at a number that we were happy with. The final icons in Clearspace are on the far right, above.

 

Next, up...the evolution of the UI.

 

The "Open" Organization

Posted by djhersh Dec 12, 2006

One of the major recurring themes that came out of our Customer Advisory Group process around Clearspacewas the idea that opening your company up (both internally and externally) is now critical to a company's success and competitive advantage, and that this idea now has the support of the C-level execs.

 

The Idea

 

Historically, hoarding knowledge was key in order to preserve a company's "special sauce." But now the prevailing idea is that opening up the gates to share information, ideas, knowledge, and even to include partners and customers in the workflow, is pivotal to building loyalty, speeding up innovation and increasing mindshare. It's the process by which you manage the sharing of knowledge that is now becoming the real differentiator (i.e. how good are you at facilitating the flow of ideas and information). Smart companies are using communities externally to improve interactions with customers and internally to boost productivity and connectedness.

 

External communities

 

Customer and partner communities have been around for awhile, but it has mostly been just technology companies that have adopted it. Two reasons for this: 1) the primary driver is tech support (lowering incoming support calls) and tech firms are the only ones who have this problem; 2) technology companies are usually early adopters of other technologies because they have a high percentage of geeks.

 

Now however, all kinds of brick and mortar companies are seeing the benefits of community and rolling them out in the right way -- that is, with the support of the executive team, marketing and all the other stakeholders. And there is usually a visionary CIO or Marketing manager behind it (not all companies have caught on yet). A recent IBM study of Global CEO's found that "partners" and "customers" were numbers 2 and 3 on the top sources of innovation, behind employees (and before consultants, competitors, trade shows, etc.).

 

Internal communities

 

Just as important as sharing ideas with customers is the idea that "collaboration without borders" is critical to employees feeling connected to each other (and therefore loyal) and more productive. If people know who knows who, who knows what and who's working on what, they rely less on email to manage the workflow and are able to collaborate more efficiently.

 

Moreover, there are huge benefits to linking these different communities -- for example, if I'm an expert in "medical insurance claims", the customers I work with online should be aware of my reputation as well as the other employees. And if I build up expertise on the customer community, that should be represented internally.

*Summary

*

 

With C-level support, the idea of the "open" organization has momentum and structure. The companies we spoke to see this and are looking for massive productivity leaps (through good technology) and broad adoption (through elegance and ease-of-use). They believe they can chisel away at the technology silos (departmental blogs, customer communities, etc.) and turn up the volume on smarter collaboration.

 

We've put a lot of focus on the UI and overall look & feel for Clearspace. To assist us with this, we hired Cameron Moll to conceptualize the early UI, Raja Sandhu for the logo (he's also responsible for Igniterealtime.org's logo) and Firewheel Design for new icons. Key to the collaboration was our own UI designer who ultimately took all the pieces, especially the UI, to many further levels of detail. Ultimately though, we took the iterations of these visual elements to our customers and prospects through several months of one-on-one user testing and feedback. I'll blog about the icons and UI in the next several days. But first...

 

The Logo

We wanted to convey many things with Clearspace's logo, particularly clarity, focus, and unity--all are functional attributes of the software. I'm sure there were many more adjectives we blabbed to Raja. He immediately fired a ton of potential sketches our way. I included some of the first round (along with a little humor from Raja) below.

 

 

We quickly gravitated to the circular treatment with the "c" and spent time refining that direction. There was also quite a discussion around negative space and just how explicit we had to be for people to see the circle and not a "stingray" shape (per example one below). The final mark (orange, below) does a lot of work and we're thrilled with the result. There's a "c" that can also be seen as fingers holding just what they're looking for. The squares represent bringing focus to different content types.

 

 

Funny, getting a logo of this quality is a bit like painting your walls a new color and then realizing that you need new furniture--so, Raja is currently thinking about some of our other products, too.

 

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court's new rules on tracking e-mails and IMs went into effect. We've already had a number of people asking about the archiving features (nice to have the government help your sales efforts ).

For most companies, this likely just means an audit of their existing IT systems for capturing information and an acknowledgment of the risks (like people IM'ing using a public system over a web-based client). And that if they ever are in a lawsuit, they will be asked to turn over the IMs as part of the discovery process.

 

It seems like a reasonable step, but there is likely going to be a lot of headaches, process and cultural change...and likely some revolt by employees. I doubt it will last long though. When companies started archiving email, it was like banning smoking in restaurants -- a few painful months, and then back to business.

 

A blog about Clearspace popped up this week and reminded me how important a single, open architecture really is. Dawn Foster, who blogged about the product, participated early in our user testing. We started showing Clearspace to different types of users about 2 months ago in order to watch people use the product and learn about what was and wasn't working with the UI. That's been an amazing process and one we'll blog about some more, no doubt.

 

!http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/frankenstein.jpg!Over the course of the year we've been developing Clearspace, a few competitive products have been released. Every time we've checked them out we've been shocked at how cobbled together they are. Internally, we call them "Franken-suites." All of them are merely pieced together point solutions, packaged as a single "solution" for companies who are looking for a myriad of team collaboration features.

 

On the surface, that may not seem so bad. I mean, most of the ingredients that people request are checked off, right? The problem is that hobbled together solutions no more remedy the problem that companies have today: lots of point solutions, each one have redundant information, wasted time, limited access and no exposure or control.

 

In Clearspacebecause it's one productcontent never hides, search is unified, content can be connected and built upon and there is no redundancy. Also people have one profile and identity--that means that all their contributions can build into reputation (think eBay). It's hard to imagine companies replacing all their point solutions with one of these "Frankensuites" but maybe that's why we're so excited about everyone finding out how truly powerful Clearspace really is.

 

We just launched a new home for jivesoftware.org: igniterealtime.org. The new site has an improved UI, community blog, and better content. Why the change?

  • Having jivesoftware.org along with jivesoftware.com was simply confusing. The new site helps us articulate the Open Source business model more clearly and is a better home for the community.

  • We've been growing a lot lately -- from feature set, to community involvement, to download numbers. Both Wildfire and Spark are moving beyond the "awkward teenager" phase and ignite realtime helps us spread that message.

As always, launching a new site is way more work than one would expect and many people helped out. However, I'd like to specifically thank Contegix. They host all Jive websites and generously sponsor hosting of igniterealtime.org. Their professionalism and expert help were appreciated at 1:00 am last night as we put on the finishing site touches.

 

Please check out the site and let us know what you think!

 

 

Time to Be Clear

Posted by sam_lawrence Dec 5, 2006

!http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/clearspace_logo.png!Well, maybe not completely clear but we do plan to share as much as we can about our new soon-to-be released product,   Clearspace. It's the biggest and most ambitious undertaking we've tackled in the history of the company and it's been our consuming behind-the-scenes project for over a (very long) year. Now that we're at the end of the road (launch is very early 2007), we thought we'd blog a bit about how Clearspace was conceived, how we got here and some of the final touches we're up to. All this, of course, while still keeping the meatiest details a surprise.

 

The idea for Clearspace actually came from our customers, who through their conversations with our sales, marketing, professional services and customer support teams had been asking for many different collaborative feature additions to Jive Forums and Knowledge Base. Some of these were very specific, others borrowed from a lot of the collaborative elements of completely different point solutions. At the beginning of last year we took a big step back and realized that the sum of what was being requested was a completely new, much more comprehensive product.

 

So, a year ago we faced very tough decisions. Up to that point we had planned to address our customer requests through a combination of improvements to our existing products and/or building a couple of totally new products. Our big decision was was whether to build three products or one. The more we talked about it the more we recognized the massive benefit that could be realized by a single, unified, flexible architecture-- sort of like that quote from Lord of the Rings--"one ring to unite them all." (ok, it was really "rule them all" but that's too harsh.)

 

To help guide us, we reached out to our top 20 customers for advice. We exposed all of them to the ideas, listened to their one-on-one feedback and had them score some simple surveys. Amazingly, strong, consistent results drove home a very clear message: Develop a single product, built from the "people connection"-side of collaboration, that would help teams work together but didn't require companies to do a rip-and-replace of what they had already invested in.

 

That's how Clearspace was born. Keep your eye here to find out more about Clearspace and what we're up to.

 

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