PBwiki is now PBworks. This name change makes sense to me, here’s why. Apparently they originally named the company PBwiki because they wanted to convey the sense that using a wiki is as simple as spreading peanut butter (PB). But they have been adding features that extend their offering beyond being a wiki-only product. One (which I discussed before) is the addition of a document library — this enables wiki users to integrate their file sharing alongside their sharing of web content. As PBwiki grows beyond a “wiki plus”, the company now wants to convey the notion that 1. they are ready for the workplace and 2. they are still as easy to use as spreading peanut butter. Thus the PBworks name. I get it, I think the marketplace will too. Nevertheless, changing names is hard.
Also announced today: PBworks now offers a set of templates and services that target the Legal Industry. These include support for a firm-wide knowledge base, case management, online deal-room, and law-firm intranet (if you are creative enough to redo-your intranet as a wiki — something I have seen work at 4 different organizations). These also come with new encryption and auditing capabilities that should address the expected concerns of law firm CIOs as they contemplate putting their intellectual property on secured servers in “the cloud”. I’m told that PBWorks will encrypt all the data on the disk and on the wire, and provides auditing capabilities to ensure that a compliance officer can see who touched which files, when, for how long, etc. I think this is going to raise the bar for other SaaS vendors — and could help SaaS become more accepted by more organizations. The on-disk encryption apparently adds significant CPU processing, but negligible latency (which tells me they are pre-caching). This means that it will cost them more to host this offering, and this is reflected in the price.
Whereas PBworks still lacks some features provided some other top of mind E2.0 tools (and I think back to a great post here, where Jon Mell discusses Jive, Lotus Connections, and SocialText – and, for what it’s worth, I have about 15 more products in this space that I track), it does have a place in my list of relevant players in the E2.0 space — at least for those clients who are looking to use, and stay with, a SaaS model. Now, I don’t see today’s announcement as a game-changer in the E2.0 marketplace. But I do see PBworks continuing to make steady progress in addressing a wider range of needs.
As I’m going through a round of briefings with many of the major E2.0 vendors, I see they are all playing leapfrog again. PBWorks has hopped well today, as it has done in the past — but this time it takes a hop in a different direction than other vendors are — it is addressing another industry vertical (they already have a good footing in the education market).
Let’s talk about law firms for a moment. The legal industry is not usually regarded as technology leaders. After all, they don’t compete on the basis of who has a better intranet. And we typically don’t see them as leading the kind of thinking that would bring wikis into their workplace. However, their success is largely based on their ability to leverage the firm’s knowledge. Whereas the term “Knowledge Management” has fallen out of favor in many industries, it is still used as a favorable description of an important function within a law firm. (This is more a semantic point than anything else. All organziations want to manage their intellectual knoweldge. But KM practices of the 1990’s took a very different approach than the social approaches we find today — and thus some people will associate KM as the flawed process of extracting knowledge from experts, whereas others will use the term KM to refer to the goal of managing the knowledge.)
Many lawyers I have spoken with have negative feelings about their case management tools and their current SharePoint installations. But they are not inclined to use social software either. And yet, there are voices of thought-leadership that I follow in Twitter, some I have spoken with about the state of KM and E2.0 in the legal industry, and from what I can tell there is a real opportunity for a vendor to break in and make a difference to the open-minded firm.
Are you in a law firm and wonding how you can manage knowledge using tools that have proven to work in other industries? Drop me a note and let’s talk. I’d love to get your perspective on this conversation and understand why you would or would not see this kind of software (from any vendor, for that matter), be used within your firm.