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1 Wiki, Best of Both Worlds

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Back in November, Andy McAfee shared a great wiki case study from Avenue A | Razorfish.  They adapted MediaWiki to meet their needs.  Leveraging open source, a great approach for a company that builds custom Intranets.

But Jeff Walker of Atlassian Confluence, a commercial wiki vendor, disagrees:

It strikes me that if Razorfish invested all this effort and money, then the question needs to be asked: Is Mediawiki an enterprise wiki? Certainly not out of the box.

One full-time intern and two part-time developers is at least $50-100K for one year! Probably the latter number. Mediawiki in this instance became an enterprise wiki but only after considerable work.

To which Shiv Singh of Razorfish replies:

… Our wiki did not take a full year to build and the part-time developers were bench resources. In other words, it did not cost us $100,000 as Jeffery implied. Furthermore, enterprise 2.0  as coined by Andrew McFee is not about cost but about what the software does for its users and how they shape the software themselves.

Commercial enterprise 2.0 software like Socialtext, Brainkeeper and Atlassian Confluence are great options for some business scenarios and we often recommend them to our own clients. But in other cases, simply modifying open source sofware can get an organization what it needs. Furthermore, by modifying mediawiki we were able to get exactly what we needed. Most importantly, by virtue of how it is being used, we know that it is social software in an organization – and that’s the most important part of an enterprise 2.0 solution.

Anu Gupta of Headshift attempted to comment (as did I and I’m stealing the structure of this post from Anu):

Shiv – not sure I agree with you…

I think you’re lucky (or unlucky) in having bench resource available – a lot of companies aren’t in that situation and have a constant battle to get developer time. So, faced with that situation – what is the cost of having 2 developers available, part time, to develop and look after your mediawiki instance over 18 months ?

Secondly, would spending the relatively small amount on an unlimited license for Confluence ($8,000) or Socialtext, and getting out of the box AD integration, search and granular permissioning, represent better value than developing it from scratch ?

Also, developing inhouse commits you to a codebase that with an audience of just yourselves (until you release it out to the community ?).

I can see both sides here.  Jeff’s point is that MediaWiki wasn’t designed for Intranet use out of the box.  I believe there is truth to this, that MediaWiki will always be optimal for running a public online encyclopedia or similar community.

But you can’t slap down open source development on the basis of cost alone.  Going with a proprietary vendor inherently restricts freedom — both through lock-in and the ability to extend. Open source enables a company to both manage risks, share risks across a community and adapt software for their situation.  Engaging internal developers also engages core stakeholders that can help wiki adoption.   

I also find the cost argument to be misleading. The closed option has a license cost, the open option has no license cost.  But the customer’s customization requirements would have to be met somehow, and who knows how the buy vs. build works out in this case where pricing isn’t transparent.

Anu’s System Integrator perspective provides a third way, where a third party gains economies by providing solutions across a base of customers.  But to remove the question mark at the end of his comment, so does an open source community.  It seems Razorfish benefits from having the bulk of its codebase be community maintained, and I would suggest sharing their extensions are in their best interest. I’m not questioning the value of such integrators, each has their own proposition and value add, but the customer would be better off if an SI serviced codebase was, again, open source.

The fourth way involves me tooting my own horn.  If Razorfish started their project today, they could use Socialtext Open and get the best of both worlds.  The best of breed enterprise wiki and the freedom of open source. 

We chose a commercial open source business model because it strikes a balance between freedom and profit.  Not because we are hippies.  But because it is in the best value for end customers.  As first to market and first to feature, we continue to innovate and there is the chance that one day Razorfish would find having us service the software to be a valuable option.  But that is up to them.

When competing in a market full of choice, you have to be a choice leader.  Not just in providing on-site, Appliance, SaaS and open source deployment and licensing options.  But enabling your customers to make their own choices.

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