Figuring Stuff Out

Zoho?

Posted by Mike on May 25, 2007

This past semester I took part in a professional practicum placement as part of my information studies program. My role was to analyze the knowledge sharing practises at the organization and to figure out ways that they could make better use of the IT apps they were using, and perhaps suggest some other apps that might help as well. One of the things I noticed while I doing the research was that collaboration on projects was a major feature of the work that the organization did and it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile for them to look into an online office suite.

Zoho is just such a suite and it offers a fantastic range of products that pretty well replace every single application you can think of in a typical office scenario. They have stripped away some features, as compared to desktop products, but most of those features are seldom used in a typical scenario. On top of those apps Zoho offers some web products, like a Wiki, that can integrate things (for a more complete description of Zoho see here).

In an effort to demonstrate the potential of this approach to the organization I was working for I decided that I would write my report in Zoho writer and then integrate it, along with a number of demonstrations, into a Zoho Wiki. The experience with the word processor portion of Zoho (Writer) was very pleasant, it laid things out very well, and that’s really all you want from a word processor. The only gripe I had with Writer was that when spell checking its periodic auto-save feature would wipe out all of the underlined words so it was a race against the clock until I had to restart the spell checker (eventually I just downloaded it to Word and spell-checked it there, which is definite stroke against). To be fair though, Zoho seems to know about the problem and have indicated on their boards that they are fixing it. Where I really ran into troubles though, was with Zoho’s Wiki.

I’ve fooled around with hosted Wiki software before and I realize that if you are going to set it up yourself you need to have a minimal level of understanding of HTML (even in a WYSIWYG environment). Luckily I am not entirely clueless when it comes to computers, and I even know a little bit about coding – although a hacker I am not. Still, working with the Zoho Wiki software was a huge pain.

First off, the GUI is not at all intuitive. I can recognize most of the buttons on a word processor toolbar and I can even figure out most of the buttons on a web-publisWhere’s the rest?hing toolbar but a little bit of help would be appreciated, perhaps a test explanation when you hover your mouse over the button (or even a screen-shot with an explanatioSite Mapn in the help section). For the most part I wasn’t really set back by this issue, I can tell that a button with ‘<>’ is going to allow me to view code but it seems like as this program is geared towards non-experts some explanation would be a good idea.

Second, there are some strange default settings. As a library student, and fan of taxonomy construction, my first inclination was to set up a home page and then a series of sub-pages dealing with various subjects or divisions in the organization. I used the GUI tool to do this (add sub-page) and continued to do so for all subsequent pages. If you look at the right pane on the screen-shot to the right, you will notice that the middle bubble holds a link to main page, but that’s it. If you look at the screen shot to the left, you will see the site map shows that all of the pages are related to each other (I used the add sub-page feature).  I’m sure there is a fix for this issue, worst case I could go into the HTML for that section and fix it, but this should be basic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very impressed with Zoho on the whole. It’s great software and they’ve got a huge range of apps that are designed to work well together, but these little things that make it tough for non-technical people to get the full experience are a big issue.

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