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Wikis meet open source with Socialtext

Software company introduces Socialtext Open, an open-source, downloadable version of its primary wiki product.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Ross Mayfield wants to popularize wikis in the business world much the way the encyclopedia Wikipedia has among the general public.

His company, Socialtext, which develops Net collaboration tools known as wikis, is setting its open-source code free to developers so that they can test the software in a business environment. The product, known as Socialtext Open, is an open-source, downloadable version of the company's primary wiki product.

Developers can download the application, which is now available in beta at open-source software development site SourceForge, to build Web pages that can be jointly authored and edited. If the tools prove viable, then they can take out a license.

"This is a commercially friendly open-source license for the enterprise," Mayfield said here Monday at the New Paradigms for Using Computers (NPUC) 2006 workshop at the IBM Almaden Research Center, which has hosted the forum for 14 years.

"All this is risky," the CEO added. "It's a big bet we're making to (ensure) wikis are as widely used as e-mail."

The news comes as rival JotSpot announced an overhaul of its wiki software to emphasize simplicity and ease of use. The company said it plans to unveil a version 2.0 of its hosted software designed to make wikis easier to build.

It also comes on the heels of Google's foray into spreadsheets. Socialtext is testing WikiCalc, an open-source, browser-based collaboration tool that combines spreadsheet functionality with wikis.

Both JotSpot and Socialtext make money from selling licenses or subscriptions to business customers, so refinement of their wiki tools is natural bait to hook more clients. But as Mayfield argued during his discussion, wikis are like a "garden," a living organism that develops organically.

In the business environment, he said, the processes built around wikis sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. By allowing developers to trial the software to see if it sticks for a particular application, such as intranet calendars, Socialtext hopes to ultimately attract more customers in the long run.

"It's not about the tools or the software; it's about the processes people develop with these tools," Mayfield said.

Mayfield announced Socialtext Open on his blog, where he called the move "a way to strike a balance between freedom and profit motive."

"When people ask me, 'Are wikis the right tool for anything?' In general, I always say, 'Yes. At the beginning,'" he said.