The table experience in social intranets

Last night I presentated at the NSW KM Forum, where I talked about the range of social intranet software options available on the market. While a lot of the subsquent conversation was about being social inside organisations, one of the more practical discussions was about the issue of working online with ‘tables’… you know, like those you create in Word or Excel:

Excel

Creating tables and lists etc is a fairly common activity in the workplace. In fact, I suspect many people use tools like Excel more for organising information than they do actually number crunching. So if people are going to work effectively online together in a social intranet, then this type of functionality is an important requirement. Unfortuntely, creating and editing tables in rich text editors online has never been a fantastic experience but recently it has started to get a whole lot better.

Nothing yet beats a spreadsheet in terms of pure flexibility and tools, like sorting and calculations – so for really heavy lifting with tables you’ll need to use a Web-based spreadsheet like Google Docs and Socialtext’s Socialcalc, or embed a spreadsheet.

However, lets have a look at a few leading tools and how well they support tables:

Atlassian Confluence

The whole rich text editor has been given a massive upgrade in the latest version of Confluence and tables are a lot easier to use now that users don’t need to worry about dealing with wiki markup (which has been removed in the new editor). Confluence’s table editing is pretty good although Jive (see below) packs a few additional formatting features. However, as complete package Confluence also offers a range of file embedding, spreadsheet, charting, and task list macros that other platforms don’t offer.

Confluence

Jive

Jive’s table editor is still essentially based on HTML tables, however the user interface removes some of the complexity of fine detail formatting – you can set the padding, background colour, text alignment (horizontal and vertical), font and colour without feeling you are going anywhere near the HTML code.

Jive

Yammer

Not a lot of love from Yammer for tables, unfortunately. You’ll need to make do with sharing spreadsheet files instead for anything more than dot points lists.

Yammer

“Generic”

Most other Web platforms use a common rich text editor plugin, like TinyMCE or CKEditor. Support for tables has improved in these plugins but IMHO vendors like Atlassian and Jive are still leading the way. Note: the editing experience on a particular platform will depend on the version of the rich text editor plugin supported and how it is configured.

Tinymce

As you can see, on a particular feature (and apparently simple one) like tables there is a lot of variability between different social intranet platforms. Is there a winner? Well, I wouldn’t pick a platform on this feature alone but these are the sorts of requirements I want to understand when helping a client pick a platform. Its may sound like a minor detail, but if you want people to work online in your social intranets then its actually more important than some of the big ticket technical specs.

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