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UPDATE: As of June 26, 2011, Socialwok announced that they would no longer be accepting new user sign up and are discontinuing the service. This comes due to a lack of funding and developer availability. Socialwok will allow users to continue to access the service for the purposes of downloading their data until July 12th, 2011. — Thanks to Ron for the update.
In an effort to discover a reasonable replacement for the collaborative powers of Google Wave, 40Tech has gone forth and tested several free or mostly free services and methods. So far, we’ve reviewed Zenbe’s Shareflow, as well as a conglomeration of other Google services (which, reportedly, will be absorbing some of Wave’s features). As our next candidate, we tested Socialwok, a free, very Facebook-like service that allows you to not only create your own focused social network(s), but was designed to integrate tightly into Google Apps.
A Social Layer to Google Apps (and more)
Socialwok adds a social layer to Google Apps that was not readily available before. On any Socialwok post, you can share a file, a URL, a Google Docs file, a note, an event (with Gcal integration), a location, or send an @message. Socialwok also enables cross-domain conversations; provides feed-specific email addresses that allow you to forward emails into a notes for discussion; in-line file and docs previews; and the ability to set up or be a part of multiple social network conversations via different “feeds”. Notifications of feed updates are available via email and in Google Talk; and while you are in the Socialwok application, new conversations will rise to the top (bubble up, as they say), with a notification bar appearing on the top to allow you to click to see the new post activity.
Social Network Aggregation and Research
Since rocking the Google Apps marketplace, Socialwok has expanded its vision to encompass that of a social productivity tool, even allowing you to aggregate other social streams into your Socialwok. Being able to bring in Twitter, Twitter search, Facebook, Google Buzz, and blog, website, or other feeds is a fantastic way to keep on top of information that you, your group, or your company needs. This aspect of Socialwok works somewhat like a potentially very organized Friendfeed or Cliqset — though Socialwok does not have near the level of Twitter or Buzz integration that Cliqset does (you can publish messages to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, however). In the future, Socialwok is even planning to support services like Salmon Protocol.
Multiple Ways to Work in Socialwok
If you enjoy working in Gmail, through a simple gadget URL, you can integrate Socialwok and all of its features right into your Gmail interface. The close similarity to the Gmail/Google look and feel, makes for simple movement from one UI to the other, as does the familiar, Facebook-like functionality. There is also a Seesmic plugin (if you want to work in a desktop environment), a Microsoft Outlook plugin, and a great mobile site.
The Socialwok mobile site is actually really well put together. It even has the effect of simplifying Socialwok, cutting down on the potential overwhelm that can be brought about by multiple feeds in one platform. I actually preferred the mobile app to the web app — but I kind of live on my phone. iPhone and Android apps are available, but in beta. The Android app is available on Google Marketplace, but I was unable to find the iPhone app on the Canadian app store. Sign up for the beta here. Apparently, you could win a Kindle.
Create (Several) Custom Social Networks
You can, as mentioned, create or be a part of several social networks within Socialwok. Each feed is a network unto itself, which allows you to invite certain people to it, just like Google Wave. At the moment, people can only be part of a feed with an invitation, even if they are already friends with you on your Home feed, or collaborate with you on another feed. There is no public search of feeds or topics, like in Wave, or any public feeds, at all, to speak of. Some of that may change soon — but I’ll be talking more about it a bit later in the post.
What’s Needed to Bring it Closer to Wave
The main thing that Socialwok needs is the ability to edit. Without being able to edit comments, posts, and notes, there is no real way to keep collaboration on a topic tightly organized without extensive use of Socialwok’s (very good) search function. Group editing permissions would be the most robust, but even being allowed to edit your own posts would be a step forward. We spoke to Socialwok’s CEO, Ming Yong, about this and he assures us that both solo and group editing are upcoming features.
The integration of 3rd party apps and services would also be a great addition to Socialwok, as they were in Wave and continue to be in Facebook. No word on whether or not that is in the pipe, but, as Socialwok grows in success, it is not so unlikely that they might release an API for such developments.
Other Would Be Nice Features:
- RSS feeds for specific posts and comments, and/or the ability to send a particular post and all of its comments into a new feed (to localize the discussion) would help to keep important topics from getting buried. Fine controls for what floats to the top of your feed and what gets buried would also be a way to help here, as it would cut down on noise and enable you to keep your eyes on important conversations. Another option albeit a less powerful one, would be the ability to “sticky” certain posts. You can sort of do this now by “liking” a post, which automatically sends it to your personal Favorites feed.
- Socialwok should loosen the Google Apps-focus to encompass more general Google services. While the level of integration with Google Apps is awesome, and people outside your domain or even the Apps framework can use Socialwok, users who are not using Apps can run into issues with some of Socialwok’s functionality. For example, people outside your domain, at this time, can’t be made admins of a feed, and the Gmail link in the mobile app will not link you to your non-Google Apps Gmail account. You simply get an error. A little more openness could increase the overall value of the service — or it could dilute it to the point of ruination. A fine line to walk, but it appears to be one that Socialwok is willing to dance on, as they are currently planning Twitter, Facebook, and Google authentication, and even the ability to embed a feed on a public website — which has a huge amount of potential for the platform, customer management, and discussion communities.
- A means to know when others are online might be handy — I am ambivalent here, but it would add a nice level of Google Wave-ness to Socialwok.
- A “Mark As Read” button or some behind the scenes AI that allows posts to be marked as read across all feeds would be fantastic. As it is now, if you get a new post in one of your specific feeds and read and comment on it, Socialwok still shows one unread item in your Home feed, and vice versa. This can get annoying rather quickly.
- Task management would be a really nice addition to Socialwok, and is one of the topics of discussion within the company right now. When I spoke with Ming last week, he was inquiring as to what level of task management would be best. I said that Producteev-level would be perfect, but may be infeasible — I would be happy with anything that is more powerful and useable than Google Tasks…
- Google Docs integration in Socialwok is incomplete, in my opinion. You can add Google Docs files and they can be easily found via search or the left sidebar link. You can even preview the doc. Unfortunately though, you can’t edit in-line — when you click to open the doc it sends you to Google Docs, proper. This is not a huge deal, but when I open the preview to read a doc, I want to be able to edit it right then and there, within the Socialwok window it opened up in.
The consensus on Socialwok at 40Tech was two to one against, as both Evan and Josh were unable to get into the UI and flow of the web app. It grew on me, however, and grows on me still. Despite some of the annoyances, and the feeling that it was just “not quite there yet” for me, I found the familiarity of the interface easy to adopt into my work style, and I could readily envision how Socialwok could be used to facilitate collaboration within a company (or group of companies) — which is what it was ultimately designed for.
The development team are aggressively improving on the Socialwok platform, even reaching out to request interviews with active users to garner feedback and suggestions, as well as offer help, if needed. This bodes well for Socialwok’s future, especially if they successfully implement even a few of the features on their roadmap. It isn’t Google Wave, but it is definitely worth checking out if you have a good group of people that need to maintain regular, focused contact with each other. And it’s free. Socialwok is planning to offer premium administration features and virtual file sharing allotments in the future, but you can use the hell out of this application without paying a dime, as things stand now.
What are your thoughts on Socialwok? Tell us why it will or won’t work for you.