JotSpot Users Give Google Mixed Reviews

Almost four months after Google Inc. acquired JotSpot, business users and commercial developers of this hosted wiki service give mixed accounts of life as Google customers.

Some report technical improvements in their wikis, while others complain about serious Web site availability problems. Most are eager to find out what Google plans to do with JotSpot, because they have a lot riding on that decision.

"As customers, we've gotten very little feedback about product strategy and direction for JotSpot. That's concerning right now," said James Brennan, president of Mandalan Media Inc., in Culver City, California.

Google declined to answer questions for this story but provided via e-mail a statement saying that while it would make sense to integrate JotSpot into current products, "we have no plans to share just yet." The JotSpot team is focused on moving the service to the Google infrastructure "to take advantage of greater reliability and scalability" and eager to provide customers with updates about JotSpot "as soon as possible," the statement reads.

Google acquired JotSpot in October of last year, saying that the wiki technology was "a strong fit" with the Google Groups discussion forum and with the Google Apps suite of hosted communication and collaboration applications. Wikis, which are Web sites that multiple users can edit, have become popular collaboration tools in workplaces. JotSpot, founded in 2004, 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.

At the time of the acquisition, JotSpot had an installed base of thousands of businesses, including Mandalan Media, which built its commercial video sharing site Strmz.com on the JotSpot platform and launched it in early 2006. Since the Google acquisition, the site suffers about two hours of downtime per week. Because of this months-long situation the company is considering migrating the site to another platform, said Brennan, who otherwise raves about JotSpot, calling it a "phenomenal" product.

Strmz.com, which gets anywhere between 5,000 and 20,000 visitors per day, generates revenue from advertising, so if it's unavailable, Mandalan loses money. Mandalan generates about 10 percent of its total revenue from Strmz.com. Its other JotSpot wikis, which get much less traffic and are used for its interactive media consulting and producing business, haven't suffered performance problems.

Payscroll.com, a startup developing a yet unreleased career and job-related Web site, actually has seen a performance improvement in its JotSpot wiki since the Google acquisition, said Alfred Toh, the company's co-founder. Payscroll adopted JotSpot in October 2006 and has about 5 users on it, mostly for internal work. "Before, page loading could be slow, but right now it's great," Toh said.

Toh is also happy with Google's decision to make the service free for all users and put everyone on the same level of service, which for him meant an upgrade. Now, he is allowed to have an unlimited number of JotSpot pages as well as unlimited storage and applications. "That's one of the best things that's come across so far," Toh said.

However, others feel this has removed their leverage as paying customers.

"I'm not really comfortable using a free service as a key element of our business, because the vendor has basically no obligation to us," said Stephen Bronstein, chief operating officer of IODA Alliance, a San Francisco provider of distribution and marketing services to independent musicians and a JotSpot user since 2004.

In the weeks following the acquisition, IODA's JotSpot wikis had significant performance and availability problems. Those problems got resolved, but Bronstein remains conflicted. JotSpot technology is "hugely important" to the company, where all 60 employees use it. "When we were paying them, they were obligated to provide a certain level of support," he said.

Jay Dempsey, marketing director at Heritage's Dairy Stores, in Thoroughfare, New Jersey, is happy with recent improvements to JotSpot but wonders what Google is planning for the future. After about 2 years of use, about 20 employees are on JotSpot, out of a staff of 550. JotSpot has worked very well, and Dempsey wants to expand its use significantly.

"Ultimately, what I want to do is use JotSpot for the stores to do more of an information exchange, to be able to access various pieces of information they need" and cut down on endless, circular e-mail threads, he said.

Commercial developers are also eager to hear Google's plans. The Last Mile Group'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.

"We, like the rest of the partners, are waiting patiently to find out what the product roadmap will be, and how it will affect our ability to continue building applications for JotSpot," said David E. Antila, The Last Mile's chief technology officer.

For Antila, the best-case scenario would be that the APIs that allow his company to create custom JotSpot applications remain open and available to commercial developers. "The only risk we see is that, at this point, Google is not ready to announce what's going to happen with the programmer's APIs," Antila said.

However, Antila remains optimistic that Google will decide to keep these APIs. "We're not ready to fold up our tent and run away, because we believe a reason Google made the acquisition may have been the value of that API," Antila said.

The Last Mile Group customers are equally positive. "Despite the acquisition and uncertainty around what might happen, our customers want the platform badly enough to assume the risk and assume the best," Antila said.

As part of Google, the JotSpot team has remained highly responsive to The Last Mile Group's support requests. "They've remained a good vendor and a willing partner to help us achieve what our clients are looking to do," he said.

To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon