Sunday, March 21, 2010

Social Wok

I posted a tweet today that suggest that Social Wok had problems. Social Wok replied to my tweet asking for more information. Now that's the way to follow up! Take note of that folks. Responding to complaints is a good thing as I went the extra mile to grab some screenshots(see below) and am creating this post. If they hadn't responded I probably would have removed Social Wok and just moved on.

update: And they wouldn't have fixed it already making their product better, this user happy with them, and all that before I could even finish this post (granted there's a lot of fluff in this post).


Social Wok is a web app that integrates with Google Apps. Google Apps being the offering from Google to host email, online office applications (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool, etc), google sites(simple web site with limited look and feel control, but easy to set up), and many more applications available from Google Marketplace. Google Apps has Standard (free), Premier/Business ($50/user/year, I think), and Education, Non-Profit, and Government editions. Obviously there's a difference in what Apps provides depending on which one you choose. The key to Google Apps is that while you are using google's services its with your own private domain.

Social Wok is one of the web applications that you can add to your Google Apps domain. It allows you to create a "social network" similar to twitter and or facebook just for your domain. But not just 140 character limited "updates", you can share google docs, calendar events., etc. As far as I am concerned, it's better than Google Buzz at this point in many regards, particularly if you are thinking about social media hosted in the cloud for a closed user group, such as a company, and/or a domain.

I obviously use Google Apps for the neohawk.org domain, although this blog is not hosted by Google's cloud. Blogspot doesn't do it for me, although I do have a blog there too, and byteflow has been more that sufficient for my purposes. Email, calendar, docs, etc., are all on google apps though and my family actually makes pretty heavy use of it. For example, my daughter used google docs to create her college application essay and shared it with me so I could review and make comments for her. Similarly, my wife created her resume on google docs and shared it with me so I could make comments, suggestions, etc.

I really like the idea of Social Wok and it certainly seems more useful at this point than Google Wave. Since the idea behind it is a "social media" type of use case for use within a given domain, it also gives you the ability to update to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and friendfeed. I could see Social Wok being my overall Social Media interface if I could also pull in feeds from outside. For example, I can post something to twitter, but I can't see any replies to that without going to twitter. Or at least as far as I know.

But generally, I think I'm going to like this. My wife has gotten into the habit of tweeting me(direct messages) family news while I'm on business trips. Social Wok would be the perfect venue for that personal type of updates. If I thought about it from her perspective though, the integration with twitter would need to be better in that she's on twitter for other reasons and the way it stands now she'd have to post in both. And so it's probably easier for her just to stay in twitter and direct message me from there. But in general, I'm thinking its going to be useful.

So let's get to a little more detail and clarify my tweets about Social Wok.

My first tweet was actually from within Social Wok so that worked quite well. My tweet was this:

testing social wok....uses socialwok's domain #fail. Integrates in navigation bar #success

First of all, once you add it to your google apps domain, it is integrated nicely with the google navigation bar. See the screenshots below.

integrated into nav bar
Integrated into the Google Navbar

integrated into nav bar pull down
Integrated into Google Pull Down Navbar

Certainly, this is well done. Expected maybe, but it's the way it should be and it is, so that's a positive in my book. The #fail in my tweet refers to the fact that the service uses the socialwok.com domain in the url. I am certainly aware that some people don't even know what a url is and wouldn't notice. My family, though, does and to all of a sudden be at "socialwok.com" is disconcerting at a minimum, but more likely to cause serious concern since I drill into the family to be aware of urls due to phishing and other scams. I'd also imagine that if I were a company using it for an internal social media application, I would definitely not like it at all.

I am using both the standard google apps as well as the free version of Social Wok. So the for-fee versions may address this. However, at least in google apps (which uses google's domain), the name of my domain is in the url a la "*.google.com/a/neohawk.org". Social Wok provides no indication on the url of what domain your in, which in my mind is a #fail. I will admit I'm not sure that the folks at Social Wok have the ability to integrate the domain, or where that limitation is - google or social wok or just straight up DNS.

This leads to another shortcoming in Social Wok that I see. If I want to share a document from within Google Docs to Social Wok, it seems that I have to invite people from *my domain* using a social wok.com address. For example, if I wanted to share a document with my son ken I'd have to use ken+hawkins@socialwok.com, for if to a "feed" shared by the group it would be group+feed@socialwok.com. This is counter intuitive considering that the application should be integrated into my domain. I am absolutely positive it'll confuse the hell out of my wife, and I'm not sure I completely get it.

The other big failure was that Social Wok was useless from Google Chrome. Works great in Firefox, but completely useless in Chrome. See the screenshots below.



But here's the thing. In the time it took me to write this post, it seems that the Social Wok folks fixed the issue. Not only does the gadget with gmail work perfectly so does the standalone. That my friends is the power of listening to the twitterverse and responding. Not only did Social Wok make their product work better, they just made one user really, really happy. All within about an hour!


fixed social wok in chrome

Great work Social Wok!

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