Companies selling knowledge management tools into the enterprise space have been banking on the potential of social computing technologies to enhance organizational productivity. "Social networking capabilities, like those found on the popular consumer site Facebook, are quickly augmenting the value of traditional email or document-focused collaboration tools," wrote Rob Koplowitz, principal analyst for Forrester Research, in The Forrester Wave: Collaboration Platforms, Q3 2009. "Enterprise-focused social networking capabilities greatly enhance knowledge workers' ability to access relevant content and expertise in a business setting." PBworks (http://pbworks.com), a provider of hosted collaboration solutions for business and education, is the latest vendor to add social media features. The company has just announced its Social Collaboration Update for PBworks Project Edition and Legal Edition, which integrates social media-style user profiles and microblogging to help teams work together more freely and easily.
The Social Collaboration Update includes three key components: user profiles, microblogging, and email integration. The update serves to tie social networking and microblogging together with wiki-style authoring, document management, and project management. It's all about boosting team performance and productivity. "The core of collaboration is doing the work," said Jim Groff, CEO of PBworks. "Getting work done is what makes all this Web 2.0 technology relevant to solving real business problems. The Social Collaboration Update makes social media a practical and productive tool for working together."
PBworks' VP of marketing, Chris Yeh, says the user profiles are different from what you find on Facebook or LinkedIn-they're relevant to work being done within the specific company context. The organization specifies which fields to include (e.g., office location, department, relevant skills, and experience, etc.). This converts a company's PBworks Network into a searchable personnel roster. Even better, user profiles automatically include a list of the user's contributions, such as edits and file uploads, as well as tasks each user is working on.
PBworks also now supports real-time Twitter-style microblogging to facilitate unstructured collaboration such as brainstorming and discussions. Once users' ideas begin to develop, they can be transferred to wiki pages for more structured collaboration. A mobile edition isn't yet available, but Yeh says it will be before the end of the year.
The email integration is very easy-no changing how people work if email is still their tool of choice. Authorized users can add wiki pages and upload files by simply sending email to a workspace address. PBworks automatically creates a corresponding wiki page with time stamp, records the author, and includes any email attachments as links to uploaded files. Entire email discussions can be transferred to PBworks by forwarding the most recent entry to a workspace.
Jeremiah Owyang, partner, customer strategy, Altimeter Group, says this really is an update, an evolutionary step for PBworks-not revolutionary. "The microblogging features keep PBworks up to date with competitors, such as Socialtext and Yammer[;] their unique approach ties tacit knowledge from users' profiles with their microblogging discussions. Essentially it marries unstructured chat information with potential structured data from individuals' profiles to make sense of the discussion and be contextually relevant."
He continued, "The bigger trend here is that work groups and business groups will continue to adopt social technologies-sometimes without the approval of CIOs. In the long run, technology departments in companies need to provide collaboration solutions for work teams or the business units bypass them."
Gil Yehuda, independent industry analyst at www.gilyehuda.com, concurs that PBWorks is following the trend that other Enterprise 2.0 platform vendors have set, but he says the company is going about the implementation in its own style. He says the implementation "maintains their very simple usage experience. Whereas many of their competitors offer more features, these can result in more confusion, especially for non-technical users."
He commented in some detail about the additions in the update.
Most popular Enterprise 2.0 platforms focus on three areas: content, people, and activity. PBWorks started off with a product that helps manage content on a wiki, and then added support for documents, that's the content part. Now they are providing support for user profiles. This adds context to the content since you can associate people to the text and documents, and get a better sense who the people are and what they are working on. Once you add profiles, you enable a host of new capabilities too. The one that most platforms add is microblogging. This adds a stream of activity that connects the people to the content, and it connects the information sharing to the same place that the work is taking place. PBworks now has this feature too. They have also added some functionality to support task and project management. This is a very important direction for them, as it indicates that they are focused on enabling work, not just social conversation.
Another important addition in this release is the email integration. As much as we might hate email, it's very much a part of the real-world workplace. So PBworks now allows you to include a special email address to any work email, and the contents of that email (including attachments) turns into a new work page on the wiki. This is a great way to nudge people off of email and onto a better collaboration platform.
PBworks has a pretty consistent feature rollout strategy: They wait and learn from others, and they offer incremental features to their platform. So they rarely make a splash. But their "slow and steady" approach has proven to be successful for thousands of no-nonsense customers who just want what they cannot get from their intranets.
No-Nonsense Happy Customers
"Nobel Biocare is a global organization with offices on six different continents, which makes online collaboration essential for working together," said Brian Volken, global support director for the company. "As we've achieved success with PBworks, more and more people within the organization have requested access. PBworks connects our employees with the information and other people they need to get their work done more efficiently and effectively, and offers administrators like me the tools to manage all these users and workspaces."
"RBC Wealth Management has over 200 offices, each with people with different expertise and experience. Being able to locate and share that expertise in real-time is critical to providing the best possible client experience," said Gwen Jorgens, AVP. "PBworks gives us tools for connecting people across the world. The email integration is key for encouraging rapid adoption. It gives people an easy and familiar way to get content into PBworks."
"My team, Ogilvy's 360 Digital influence, is all about driving word of mouth through influencer and social media marketing. We do this globally," said John Bell, managing director. "PBworks connects that global team and lets us work socially-not just deliver via ‘social media.'"
In April 2009, PBwiki rebranded itself as PBworks, reflecting how the company had expanded its collaboration solution beyond traditional wiki functionality. CrunchBase says that PBworks serves teams at more than a third of the Fortune 500 and is home to three presidential campaigns, the United Nations, Financial Times, and Harvard University. PBworks says it hosts more than 900,000 workspaces. PBworks is based in San Mateo, Calif., and has raised $2.45 million in venture funding to date. It employs about 25 people.
According to CrunchBase, the company's main competitors are Wetpaint, JotSpot, Wikia, Socialtext, MindTouch, BrightSide Software, and Netcipia (several of which are unfamiliar to me). Competing products mentioned by others include Jive Social Business Software (SBS; formerly Clearspace), Microsoft SharePoint, and Lotus Connections.
The Social Collaboration Update is available immediately as a free upgrade to PBworks Project Edition and Legal Edition. New customers receive the update as part of their Project Edition or Legal Edition purchase.
Project Edition costs $20/user/month, with an unlimited number of free guest licenses for clients and vendors and a 30-day free trial.
Legal Edition costs $50/attorney/month, with free licenses for other staff and clients. No trial is available, but Legal Edition is free for pro bono usage, even for firms that are not customers of PBworks.