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I have it on good authority that Team and Concepts Limited, the owners of EditGrid, are considering the discontinuation of this excellent on-line spreadsheet tool.

Atlassian Confluence-hosted product users such as NYK Line, The Wall Street Journal, Nintendo of America, Accenture and Illinois Wesleyan University, face losing this highly important functionality altogether, should they attempt to move their wiki from the Atlassian hosting (where EditGrid is included for free) to in-house servers. Team and Concepts are refusing to sell new licenses of the EditGrid plugin for Confluence. They are even refusing to grant their usual 30 day evaluation license until they reach a decision regarding whether to continue with EditGrid or not.

I wonder if those who already license the Confluence plugin will be left in the lurch regarding support and upgrades, or even worse, could we see a situation where those who rely on the vendor’s EditGrid server in Hong Kong see this service interrupted, rendering the tool and their investment useless?

The situation is made worse by the uncertainty. A contact of mine recently tracked down P K Chan of Team & Concepts Ltd via his cell phone. All that he would say is that they were not certain whether they would continue with EditGrid or not. In the mean time they would not sell the product or grant evaluations until a decision had been reached. It is my experience that the company does not return phone calls, respond to e-mail or to requests made via their website.

At the company I am currently assisting with the migration of an enterprise wiki from Atlassian Hosted to an in-house server. I am converting all instances of EditGrid usage to the [Confluence] built-in Office Connector tool. This seems to work very well though I am a little worried about data loss during concurrent edits of workbooks and the lack of the usual version tracking we normally expect from wiki pages. I aim to explore the use of Office Connector in an imminent blog post.

Come on Team & Concepts, you need to act fast to remedy this unhappy situation.

UPDATE

As a result of Atlassian’s Jens Schumacher’s comment (below) I felt a clarifying update was appropriate incase readers miss the comment:

1. Even if EditGrid stops working, you will of course be able to access any spread-sheet (attached to a wiki page) using the Office Connector or download and edit the files in Excel etc.

2. The EditGrid server that drives the spreadsheets in Confluence Team and Enterprise Hosted is actually hosted by Atlassian so these customers will not lose EditGrid functionality should EditGrid pull the plug on their server.

3. Versioning: Jens says: “You will still be able to take advantage of attachment versioning using the Office Connector”. I can;t see how this is so. Jens have I missed some configuration step? When I make an edit to a spreadsheet using EditGrid, prior versions of the spread sheet attachment can be accessed/viewed/downloaded etc. via the Page Attachments view (by clicking the side pointing arrowhead to the left of the attachment). Using the office connector to edit the workbook (in Excel) does not result in a new version being saved. Instead WebDAV is used to serve up the attachment as if Excel were opening it from a local drive. After editing and saving the View Attachments page there is only one version of the attachment so changes within the workbook cannot be tracked.

Data Loss

Whenever multiple people happen to be editing the same workbook using EditGrid the product seems to do an excellent job of saving every person’s changes. When I did a simple test using Excel via Office Connector changes made by person A were obliterated when person B did a file-save moments later.

I believe that Atlassian may have a enhancement ticket open to improve these two behaviours of the office connector. I feel that even with these two factors the Office Connect is a superb addition to Confluence and should be used.

I too hope that EditGrid will continue with their first class product.

Roughly 15 years ago Ward Cunningham started it all with his Wiki
Wiki Web editor. For the next twelve years the wiki was the preserve
of the techie. It was used by teams of developers to comment about code changes and features to be incorporated into the software they were building.

For the last three years people like me have been pushing the virtues
of the wiki for use outside the IT department. Enterprise wikis like
Atlassian’s Confluence make this possible by providing friendly
editors and integration with office suites like Microsoft Office.

Now Beth Stackpole spotlights in this Computerworld article the growth of enterprise wiki use within the IT department as a whole. When I spoke to Beth, I was keen to talk of all the non-IT business uses the Confluence tool was fulfilling but she only wanted to focus on IT use!

Funny how things often go full circle.

Stewart author of WikiPatterns and ex-wiki evangelist at Atlassian is in the UK this week to give a couple of workshops now that he has gone solo with his own consulting company.

The first of his sessions is a free (as far as I can tell) evening meeting on 3rd September at WuffleClub entitled Grow Your Wiki and the second, Effective Project Management Using a Wiki is the following morning at the same venue where the cost is a very reasonable 50 quid!

I am very excited to be attending the project management session as I have always felt the wiki was a perfect tool to supplement the more traditional PM tools like MS project. I explored with Mentor Group’s Peter Nightingale using a wiki for the change management and project configuration aspects of a project. I also have used the corporate wiki for project reporting: paste a good quality JPEG of a MS project GANT or PERT into a wiki page and then email the link (or better still rely on the RSS feed) to all interested parties. The recipients do not need to have MS project or any special file viewers and they can use the wiki’s functions to give feedback.

I will endeavor to blog late next week about Stewart’s workshop.

Fantastic news: Atlassian have introduced an embedded wiki spreadsheet for the Confluence product called EditGrid. It has been implemented as a Confluence plug-in and finally brings real-time spreadsheet collaboration to the enterprise wiki world.

When the wiki page is saved the spreadsheet is stored as an Excel like attachment to the page. Normal wiki change tracking / versioning is extended to the spreadsheet’s contents!

When the page is viewed the sheet’s contents is rendered in HTML right on the page – no clicking of links or examining the page for attachments! The viewing user is even able to perform sorting and auto filtering.

When the page is placed into edit, a special sheet editor is provided.

Uncharacteristically for Atlassian, the plug-in has been provided first for hosted users (both Hosted and the newer Enterprise Hosted schemes) but in-house users will have to wait until “later in 2008 Q1″.

I feel that this feature opens up the Confluence tool to even more possibilities regarding emergent applications/user organized applications and is possibly another nail in the coffin of the traditional CMS style intranet.

Well done Atlassian and thanks!

More info here.

London wiki Wednesday, 5th December 2007 at NYK Line / NYK Group Europe

Last night I hosted London Wiki Wednesday, with facilities kindly provided by NYK and refreshments funded by SocialText.

At the top of the bill was Jimmy Wales but although David Terrar delayed start of proceedings significantly, he did not show up. To be fair to Jimbo, apparently his commitment was along the lines of “I will try to be there”.
Despite his non-appearance, we were by the presence of Alison Wheeler from Wikimedia UK who spoke eloquently and at some length about the charitable work of Wikimedia.
Well into the evening, I exited the room to look for stragglers (hoping to spy Jimbo emerging from the lift) and found instead Wikimedia’s Sue Gardner, (great name for a wiki enthusiast!), who was hopelessly lost and wandering NYK’s 17th floor looking for the venue. To her credit, she immediately took to the lectern to further illustrate their altruistic work.
There were then a couple more speakers that I missed because I was busy organising stuff.
After that, I took the stage to give my brief talk on Enterprise Wiki Tips and our use of Confluence. I gave my typical, low key Lotoczko presentation but this was followed by a lively Q&A.
When I was discussing Person Pages and Skills Discovery one questioner asked if I wasn’t worried that the wiki would degenerate into a dating site. I recalled a Euan Semple story that he had recounted during one of our many meetings/coaching sessions. It runs along the lines of: During the early days of Euan’s experiments with forums within the BBC, a body of staff appeared to be using the platform for dating. Undaunted, Euan allowed it to continue, a case of any use is better than no use. A while later a program maker found the material to be an invaluable resource when he was asked to make a documentary on modern dating trends. The story was well received (I think there was one BBC guy in the audience).
An animated and enthusiastic Hong Kong student guy Francis Wan gave an impromptu talk about his involvement with the Chinese language Wikipedia. Although it faces huge problems from Chinese censorship he explained that Hong Kong and Taiwan nationals were keeping it thriving as were the ex-pat Chinese community. I found this to be an enthralling account of social media helping to overcome imperial censorship.
I even received help from Alex Jerreat (wiki gardener extraordinaire) and Sean McClowry with the back-breaking task of re-assembling the boardroom tables, allowing me to catch my last train.
In all, one of the best Wiki Wednesdays of recent months, in my opinion.

I have just returned from the Atlassian Amsterdam User Group meeting.
I give below my very rough notes of what happened:

Accenture Keynote: Michael Widjaja spoke. He stated that Gartner had placed enterprise wikis well to the right of the disillusionment area of the “hype – disillusionment – growth acceptance” bell-curve.

There is a company in Liverpool http://www.adaptavist.com/ who are very knowledgeable regarding Confluence – can build plug-ins etc. They are very busy at the moment.

Jeffrey Walker (Atlassian) Introductions, then: Josh Wold, pre-sales support, has moved from the US to London. Can now give us support in our time zone. 37% of Atlassian’s business is in Europe. They will establish a office in Europe in the next few months. They are talking to a team of independent developers in Poland who know the Atlassian products very well. They are in discussions. I predict that this team will probably become the backbone of Atlassian’s European support.

Atlassian were established 5.5 years ago. They had a 1M turnover – now 25M. They now have around 8,500 customers. They aim to always keep their costs low and the costs of products low.

The largest Confluence wiki is at SAP with around 800,000 signed-up users. An interesting customer is Pixar Animation Studios. All film production PM meetings have a scribe keying into a wiki page.

New releases of Confluence will come every 8 – 12 weeks. Features due to arrive soon are: UI improvements for Attach / Insert while in Edit; a new super user role – Manager with more powers than Admin; sorting of gallery pictures; other UI-like drop-down menus; page ordering; an easy installer.

Expect to see many commercial 3rd party plug-ins.

SharePoint Connector, which provides for Cross Search, imbedding of a wiki page in SP, wiki links direct to SP and a single sign-on.

The “Builder” product from http://www.adaptavist.com/ has a tool that can turn an email archive item into a wiki page. We could use this to enable mail-in.

PIX Software produced a case study showing how a major bank had used JIRA as a large scale Bill Payment processor.

Atlassian are finding themselves adapting to the fact that their wiki is being used in the enterprise whereas at the start it was used in technical communities. This brings new requirements in the area of permission.

Lodovic Hirlimann from JOOST said that Confluence was used as their document repository globally. They found it very good for test cases and test results. They make extensive use of templates for page creation – using templates to auto-label pages. They use JIRA for their entire travel authorisation process!

Josh talked about uses for the wiki. He pointed to many case studies on their site such as BI reporting using charting plug-in.

Ideas that came from the floor: hold person-to-person brainstorming sessions involving senior managers. Get each of them to think of their (or their department’s) 6 best successes / best practices then point them at a blank wiki page to write about them all.

On the wiki, build discussion trees / problem solving procedures.
Start CEO blogging using a personal space and the NEWS label. The CEO could make a physical desk visit to anyone who comments to give words of encouragement.

Use a Rate-this-page, digg style plug-in.

Second Life are big users of JIRA.

Last Wednesday I spoke at he Intranet Benchmarking Forum’s Global IBF meeting in London.

Afterwards, I spotted Richard Dennison’s post about one aspect of the event: the Financial Calculator.

Richard’s post along with the single response by shaidorsai got me thinking about the cost/benefit equation of using a wiki for one’s intranet.

During the meeting, while Lars Ploughmann of Headshift was giving his exelent talk, a senior figure from one of the global IBF members commented that a Confluence wiki was not that cheap. Though the licence fee was only GBP4000, the total installed cost was likly to run to 70 – 90k.

This could turn out to be true but I would argue that this expense is more-or-less a one-off.

During a typical year (for our Notes/Domino based intranet) I paid 30k for our business partner to develop an image library, 90k for a Powerpoint presentation storage and download area, and 20k for enhancements to a bespoke meeting booking system. This pattern was repeated each year as new business requirements emerged. For each requirement, a lengthy making-of-a-business-case process was needed.

Because the wiki imposes no business logic, process or work flow, once I have paid the first year cost, these types (and other currently un-thought off types) of application can emerge for free (OK, there is my salary and those of the business departments, but these would have been a factor of the old way of working as well!).

In addition, because the wiki supports self organizing, I expect business users to emerge, creating their own applications, with only a minimal amount of support from me (the central intranet management function).

If of-the-shelf commercial plug-ins, or even bespoke code is needed to support some of the more elaborate emergent apps, it should be possible to develop working prototypes for free using the base functionality of Confluence. Benefit could then be measured over a period and used to justify the additional spend as part of a phase II.

To steal a phrase from our head of corporate comms: “it’s easy to get [financial] approval if the ‘i’ in ROI is kept small”

Often during my meetings with Euan Semple he refers to corporate intranets as “knowledge coffins”. This is pertinent as one of my worries about the intranet that I manage is that, though I can see numerous items of fresh content posted each week, I am far from convinced that anyone is reading it!

I see enterprise strength wiki integration as a major way to address this and reinvigorate the intranet. Notification features such as granular Watch, E-mail Notification, and of course RSS, features of enterprise wiki offerings like Socialtext and Atlassian’s Confluence will draw a regular audience into the wiki, and, just perhaps, the legacy intranet content via hyper-links.

This new crowd of active and frequent lurkers boost the ROI by consuming, and hopefully acting on, the wealth of business knowledge that the weekly posters so diligently supply.

To boost this effect, I would love to find a way to integrate the wiki’s built-in search and labels (tag cloud) such that it returns relevant documents from the legacy intranet in addition to wiki pages. The converse of this would be to also have the intranet search include wiki pages.

Does anyone have experience of integrating wikis and legacy intranets in this way? I look forward to hearing your comments.

  1. A recent post by by Stewart Madder on the Atlassian blog prompted me to explain how I believe an enterprise wiki can be used to re-invigorate a legacy intranet.

    Typically, the intranet tools which are in use today have somewhat clumsy publishing processes. There is a form to fill out with half a dozen fields (categories / sub-categories, Title, expiry, attachment and a few more) Some of them even have an approval/authorization process and other impose a conversion routine where word attachments are converted to HTML. Information is usually categorized via a taxonomy and it exists in silos that mirror the companies’ organizational structure.

    Thos who know wikis will appreciate the magical qualities they bring to content management, some of which are.

    - Incredible ease of publishing
    - Anyone can publish / anyone can read
    - There is no clear content owner. This reduces the feeling of intimidation thereby encourages others to pitch-in and improve the text.
    - The tags (labels) provide for a folksonomy and a way for one piece of information to be categorized in many ways thereby enhancing discovery.
    - Notification: Advanced enterprise strength wikis like Confluence have sophisticated “watch” tools that provide both email and (spam/virus free) RSS notifications of new and changed content.

    It is my hope that the workforce will create new documents within the wiki that reference, via hyperlinks somewhat more formal documents that exist within the traditional intranet thereby driving traffic to and reinvigorating the legacy intranet content (or the sub-set of that content that the workforce decide is still relevant/useful.

    As part of a future phase I would like to investigate Atlassian’s social book marking plug-in to see if this can be used to boost this effect.

Dennis Howlett’s post Old meets new: Lotus Domino and Atlassian seems to have generated new interest in DominoWiki the excellent open source wiki by Ben Pool. I even saw a question on Ben’s blog from IBM’s Domino head honcho: Ed Brill! The question is: why did the project outgrow DominoWiki?

This caused me to return to earlier thoughts regarding what makes a wiki enterprise strength?

When I spoke to Ben at Lotusphere Comes To You early this year I outlined some of the bespoke changes we were making to the product. It became clear that some of these features were being looked at for inclusion in the core project, probably for V1.2 (I fully emphasize with the brand of open source developer who have to feed their families by way of day gigs while pursuing the development of the project by night. This inevitably makes for a slow rate of progress)

I needed some improvements quickly. These are the features I decided were needed in order promote interest and make the product highly usable within the enterprise:

Tag cloud: I noticed that the Categories function built-in to DominoWiki worked rather like tags. I renamed them to tags and had a tag cloud built.

Pages by tags view – users using the tags. I feel the process of discovering others who are using the same tag(s) is key.

All tags used by a user view – Discover other stuff that like minded users are writing.

Auto image tag insert One thing that caused a lot of confusion – “I uploaded an image but it does not show up on the page”.

Improved tagging process – Existing tags (categories) were lost if one selected a new one. I combined a check-box system by which users had to uncheck a tag to remove it. Combined with the list of all tags in the wiki to select from and the field into which new tags could be entered (multiple tags separated by commas)

Many pages of help & advice – I composed many instructional pages to guide the new user.

Colour text markup

Alt-text markup for non CamelCase page name links – I could not see how to display text for a link that was not the page name

Things I am considering adding in the near future:

email-in – Any Domino user will know that the platform lends itself to this. This is a killer feature for any wiki as it allows reluctant users to compose within an editor they are familiar with. It also allows those on mobile email devices or within web cafe to utilise a spare moment to log an inspirational thought.

email Alerts

Granular RSS – down to page (and its children) level (RSS is a major component of Enterprise 2.0)

Delete Page Improvements – Giving consideration to history

Advanced Tag Cloud – Related Tags View, 20 most popular only etc.

“Newsworthy” checkbox – push a link to the homepage,

Permissioned Areas, - A major requirement for Enterprise

Rich-Text Editor

Printer Friendly facility

Atlassian, as a result of a presumably huge investment has given all of these features (and more) to Confluence in its out-of-the box form and the enterprise licensing costs are very competitive.

Despite this the DominoWiki based wikis (I now employ three) continue to provide real value and in my opinion have enormous potential.