Desperately seeking JotSpot

Google Inc.'s continued silence about JotSpot has diminished this lauded wiki product's market visibility and risks alienating existing customers at a time when interest in wikis from corporate IT buyers has hit an all-time high, analysts, users and developers warn.

Soon after Google acquired JotSpot in October, it closed new signups for the hosted wiki service and went mum about its plans. Seven months later, JotSpot customers and developers crave information about JotSpot plans and grapple with various degrees of availability and performance problems.

Meanwhile, JotSpot competitors like Socialtext aggressively market their wares as interest rises among chief information officers about wikis, which are Web sites that multiple users can edit and that have become popular workplace collaboration tools.

Joe Kraus, JotSpot's co-founder, wants everyone to know that his team is working hard to integrate JotSpot's systems into the Google infrastructure.

"I'm as eager as any of our users are," said Kraus, now a Google product management director for collaboration applications. "At a personal level, I'm an entrepreneur. I'm impatient by nature. I feel an absolute sense of urgency."

The decision to close signups and remain silent on JotSpot's future was made so that Kraus and his team could focus on migrating the hosted wiki service over to Google, he said.

"You can't successfully divide your attention between porting your software [to Google] and supporting an inflow of new customers," he said. "It was the right decision to make, although we love the product and we wanted people to continue to use it."

Still, he declined to say when Google will announce its JotSpot intentions and reopen it for new customers. It is widely assumed that JotSpot will become part of Google Apps, the hosted suite of communication and collaboration applications for organizations that includes e-mail, instant messaging, calendaring, word processing, spreadsheet software and will soon offer a presentations tool.

In the meantime, rival Socialtext is wasting no time attempting to capitalize on JotSpot's sabbatical, running the following text ad in Google's search engine for wiki-related queries: "JotSpot off the mark? Sign-up for a risk-free, 30-day trial of Socialtext's business wiki -- www.socialtext.com."

Maybe Google is finding it harder than expected to integrate JotSpot into its infrastructure, Forrester Research Inc. analyst Oliver Young said. Whatever it is, the timing is unfortunate. "The wiki market is more alive than it's ever been. JotSpot and Google are definitely missing an opportunity right now," Young said.

Application developer Knowesys Inc. in San Jose, California, generates about 40 percent of its revenue from JotSpot-related work but has seen a decline in client interest for the product, which it attributes to the prolonged post-acquisition silence, said Kathleen Romano, Knowesys' founder. "The buzz is definitely slowing down. We're not seeing as many [customer] requests as we used to," she said.

Ironically, enterprises' interest in wikis generally has risen significantly, Romano said. She hopes Google will soon make noise for JotSpot in the market. "The JotSpot technology is amazing. It's better than anything else out there," she said.

The Last Mile Group LLC's JotXPert group has been developing JotSpot commercial and custom applications for more than two years, and currently, JotSpot-related work generates about a third of the company's revenue.

"Customers keep asking for wiki applications to be built using the Jot platform. Despite all the caveats and warnings that Google has given, and that we in turn give to our clients, they remain committed. I think they realize, as we have, that the Jot technology is far superior to other offerings and that they're willing to take the risk." said David E. Antila, chief technology officer at The Last Mile, which is based in San Mateo, California.

Antila hopes that Google will keep the JotSpot APIs (application programming interfaces) open so that commercial developers like JotXPert can continue to build wiki applications on top of the JotSpot platform. However, he recognizes that until Google announces its plans for JotSpot there is no way to know for sure whether the platform will remain open.

"Of course, you never think it's going to hurt you until it actually happens and then it puts you in a bind. So at a certain level, we're doing what the client requests, but as a client of Jot ourselves, none of us can be sure that this is the wisest approach. The clients are putting a lot of faith in Google to do what we think would be the 'right' thing. There will be scores of disappointed clients if they don't," Antila said.

JotSpot, founded in 2004, had an installed base of thousands of businesses when Google acquired it saying that the wiki technology was "a strong fit" with the Google Groups discussion forum and with Google Apps. JotSpot allows people to design wikis with visual tools, without needing programming knowledge. JotSpot wikis can have multiple applications and components in them, such as spreadsheets, calendars, documents and photo galleries.

A quick scan of the main JotSpot discussion forum shows that the most common complaints from users are about outages affecting the availability of the service and about the lack of responsiveness from Google to their support queries.

Mandalan Media Inc.'s commercial video sharing site Strmz.com has run on the JotSpot platform since its launch in early 2006, but has suffered an average of two hours of downtime per week since the Google acquisition. These past four days, the situation has improved, and Mandalan hopes that the months-long problem is fixed for good, said James Brennan, president of Mandalan, in Culver City, California. Mandalan generates about 10 percent of its revenue from ads on the site. "We will continue our testing, but I'm beginning to think we may have turned the corner on this one," Brennan said.

Still, for him, Google's silence is deafening and he hopes that the company will open up JotSpot and share its plans within the next two months. "Prior to the acquisition, JotSpot had created a very strong customer and developer community in a true Web 2.0 fashion. They were extremely communicative," Brennan said. "They need to return to that sooner rather than later."

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