SocialText just announced its latest addition to SocialText SocialCalc, a multi-user wiki-based spreadsheet. SocialText isn’t the first to deliver an online spreadsheet, but it is the first to integrate an online spreadsheet with a leading Wiki and allows linking between sheets. (Click here for our exclusive, SocialCalc screen gallery.)
With that said, SocialCalc will have a ways to go before it offers the sophistication of Excel or even Google Sheets. While it has similar UI features complete with a nifty Ajax interface, it lacks the range of functions that one would find in the competitive offerings. (See our comparison of the functions offered by online spreadsheets.)
Nor is the spreadsheet integrated with the full range of SocialText capabilities. It can't be read offline with Unplugged, SocialText’s offline Wiki reader nor can the spreadsheet be edited through Miki, SocialText’s mobile wiki.
“Pretty much every player that’s tried online office productivity has simply emulated Office on a Web page,” says SocialText’s Ross Mayfield, SocialText's chairman, president and co-founder taking a slap at Google and Zoho, “The good thing about a social tool is that it forced us how to look at how to redesign a spreadsheet for the Web.”
THE SOCIAL TEXT SOLUTION
The announcement is the latest attempt by SocialText to expand beyond plain wikis. The company recently announced SocialText People, an enterprise, social networking extension to the SocialText wiki and SocialText Dashboard, a consolidated view for the SocialText Wiki.
The new software is based on WikiCalc, an open-source spreadsheet created by Dan Bricklin, the co-creator of the original spreadsheet, VisiCalc. SocialText acquired WikiCalc in 2005. The new software extends WikiCalc with Ajax, sharing, tagging, version control, and enterprise-level security and permissioning. The company expects that the software will find primary use in the four markets that SocialText has been focusing on – participatory knowledgebase, collaborative intelligence, business social networks, and client collaboration.
When I spoke with Ross last week about SocialCalc he pointed to the following scenario as indicative of the kind of use for SocialCalc and its sister products. Suppose a competitor offers a new bundling strategy. A field sales person might be the first to hear about the details of that pricing package, but getting a fully developed competitive response out to the rest of the organization is a major challenge. The marketing group has to be alerted. They need to find the right personnel to develop a tactical response. Those people need to meet and the results need to be communicated to the field, creating numerous documents, making sure people have the most current information, and all under the pressure of a tight deadline.
With SocialText software, a sales rep whips up a model comparing the company’s pricing with that of the competitors in SocialCalc. This sheet is added to the internal SocialText Wiki and the sales rep notifies marketing. Marketing identifies the right experts in the organization through SocialText People and pulls them into a meeting. A discussion gets started around a competitive response using the spreadsheet of field sales rep. The group then updates the wiki with that response. Since the wiki is online there’s no need to worry about versioning; every sales person instantly has the right response through their SocialText Dashboard.
OUR TAKE SocialText has done a lot of things write with SocialCalc. The linking between sheets is significant as it lets the software address a broad class of applications.
On the backend, administrators can create workspace for groups of people. They can have subgroups with special permissions. Security is also not file centric, admins can allow non-admins to create workspaces and groups. Permissioning is based on the spreadsheets, so user can restrict who has access to those sheets.
At the same time, SocialCalc will have a long way to go. Today there’s no Excel integration, something that Google Sheets already offers. What’s more the range of functions provided with SocialCalc is still limited. Excel offers some 333 functions. Google Sheet has 263, 230 that it shares in common with Excel. SocialCalc only has 107 functions.
Still the integration of a spreadsheet and wiki should be a powerful tool for workgroups and for SocialCalc. Given that this is still an early release and SocailText’s history of delivery quality Wiki, we expect SocialCalc to find a loyal following in the collaborative firmament.