Wiki startup JotSpot draws crowd

A Silicon Valley startup aiming to catapult wikis into the mainstream and transform the editable Web sites into an application development platform has attracted a flood of interest for its product beta.

Nearly 3,000 companies, small and large, have signed up for free beta test accounts with JotSpot Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif. “A lot more than we expected, it shows there is a real interest in the category,” said Joe Kraus, chief executive officer (CEO) of the company, which operated under the radar until its official launch three weeks ago.

Wiki is a term derived from the Hawaiian word for “quick” and describes Web sites that can be accessed and changed using a simple browser-based user interface. Especially popular among tech-savvy people, probably the most visible wiki is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia created by thousands of people.

JotSpot seeks to make wikis more accessible by adding a “what you see is what you get” editor that even novice users should be able to work with. Additionally, to make wikis more useful as a collaboration tool, JotSpot gives each wiki page that it hosts an e-mail address, allowing users to add an archive of e-mail messages to pages. Along with its efforts to make wikis more useful and user-friendly, JotSpot is turning wikis into Web-based applications for tasks such as lightweight project management, trouble ticketing and recruiting. The company offers several pre-built applications that users can change, just like wiki pages can be changed.

“We looked at the wiki space and thought it was kind of like the Internet in 1993, what I would call the land of the nerds, useful, but for a limited crowd. We think that wikis are useful to a much broader audience,” Kraus said. Also, wikis should not only be about documents, but also about applications, he said.

Though JotSpot is still in its early days, with a growing need for collaboration tools the expanded wikis could ultimately rival collaboration products from giants including IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp., said Burton Group Senior Analyst Peter O’Kelly.

“JotSpot will be used within organizations and it will displace other collaborative product offerings in places. Ultimately it is going to be competition with the more established players such as IBM Lotus Notes and Microsoft SharePoint and to a certain extent could even compete with the content and document management vendors,” he said.

JotSpot’s product has been called Lotus Notes for the Web, an analogy O’Kelly, who once worked at Lotus, agrees with. “It can do the same types of document-oriented applications that Notes can do and certainly ones that do things like document-based workflow or information collection,” he said.

Early JotSpot customers have found different uses for the product, which is offered as a hosted service. One uses JotSpot’s wiki service to run a call center application, while others use it to create a collaborative Web space to work with local or remote colleagues, Kraus said.

In the Detroit offices of Dickson Allan, part of Accretive Solutions Inc., senior consultant Nikki Beaver is using JotSpot’s technology to launch an intranet site for herself and 140 Detroit area colleagues at Dickson Allan and at another Accretive Solutions unit called Horn Murdock Cole. She learned about JotSpot because it is a customer of the company’s California office.

“We have no infrastructure as of right now to communicate — except for e-mail and voice-mail — and (we) are using JotSpot to create an intranet,” she said.

Beaver likes JotSpot because of its simplicity and low cost. “The editor is built right into the tool. We can give a number of people different pieces of the Web site to manage and they can do so without additional software and without extensive training,” she said. Alternatives would have required the company to hire Web developers, Beaver said.

Future uses of JotSpot at Dickson Allan may include freestyle collaborative Web spaces, the original concept of a wiki, and simple applications, such as contact management and recruitment, Beaver said.

Wikis are surprisingly popular, Burton Group’s O’Kelly said. “There are a lot of people who are using wikis for collaborative workspace-oriented tools,” he said. However, support for wikis typically does not come from CIOs (chief information officers) at large corporations, said JotSpot CEO Kraus.

“Wikis are bottom-up technologies, generally speaking. They tend to get adopted at the workgroup level and then spread,” Kraus said. That is also reflected in registrations for the JotSpot beta. “This is not the CIO of a Fortune 500 company registering (for the beta), for example; it is a workgroup leader registering,” Kraus said.

JotSpot is backed by US$5.2 million in capital from venture capital firms Mayfield and Redpoint Ventures. Additional investors include Kraus and Graham Spencer, chief technology officer and co-founder. Kraus and Spencer are two of the original founders of Excite.com, a search engine.

JotSpot is still taking applications for its beta at http://www.jot.com/request_beta/index.php.



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