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POSTED AT 9:32 AM EST ON 03/11/06

Google's spot is growing

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ingramiconSearch engine giant Google Inc. has been expanding into various non-search related markets for the past year or so, and one of the areas it has been focusing on is Web-based Office-style applications. It bought a company called Writely earlier this year, which offered a Web-based word processing application of the same name, and it launched its own Google Spreadsheets, an on-line service similar to Microsoft's Excel. Both have been rolled into something called Google Docs.

On Tuesday, Google added to its on-line stable of offerings by paying an undisclosed sum for a company called JotSpot, a provider of "wikis." And what are wikis, you ask? A wiki (derived from the Hawaiian patois term meaning "quickly") is a web page that anyone can edit using just a Web browser. JotSpot was founded in 2004 by Joe Kraus, one of the co-founders of an early web portal called Excite.

One of the most well-known examples of a wiki is the Wikipedia, an on-line community-edited encyclopedia that allows anyone to submit and/or correct information about an entry (although there are some controls on how that information gets edited and approved). The encyclopedia was set up as a non-profit venture by former Wall Street futures and options trader Jimmy Wales, and there are now several other Wikipedia-style services including Wikinews, Wiktionary and Wikiquote.

According to Wikipedia, programmer Ward Cunningham developed the first wiki in the early 1990s, and chose the name after travelling through the Honolulu airport and noticing that the shuttle bus there was called the Wiki Wiki. He designed the software to make it easy for people to collaborate on documents from different locations, without having to download software or understand programming or even the HTML Web design language.

Many companies — including the Wall Street investment firm Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein and entertainment giant Walt Disney Corp. — already use wikis inside their corporate networks, as a way of helping employees contribute to a central document or database of information on the company's products or services, or to collaborate on new projects.

Dresdner said that within a few months of launching its wiki, it was getting more traffic than the rest of the company's Intranet sites combined, and for many DKW employees had replaced a lot of needless email traffic. On-line auction site eBay recently created a wiki (with the help of JotSpot) to appeal to some of its more regular users. Anyone can register and either contribute or modify information about eBay's policies, as well as tips on on-line selling or buying.

JotSpot is just one of the companies that offers wikis, both Web-based and hosted versions that run on corporate servers. A company called Socialtext also offers an open-source wiki solution, and offers companies either an open Web-based wiki, a private one hosted on their servers or software that a company can run behind their corporate firewall. Socialtext recently announced a deal with Microsoft to integrate its software into the company's Sharepoint corporate product.

Since JotSpot recently stopped offering a hosted wiki, Socialtext and several other companies — including Atlassian — have either offered discounts or free assistance in moving JotSpot corporate wiki users over to their wiki products. Like virtually all of its other Web-based products and services, however, Google is expected to make JotSpot free, which could cause some difficulties for competitors.

Other companies that offer either hosted wikis or some form of Web-based collaboration tools include PBWiki, 37signals — which also offers a group-chat tool and a personal-information manager designed for individuals or small companies — as well as Wetpaint, Central Desktop and Zoho, which has a whole suite of Web-based Office-style services including a word-processing tool and a spreadsheet application.

Like Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, advocates of what some are calling "Enterprise 2.0" believe that many companies will eventually use wikis as a way of helping their employees collaborate more easily.

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