Expanding its efforts at providing software that helps users create and post their own materials online, Google Inc. has acquired JotSpot Inc., a California startup that develops online collaboration tools known as wikis. The integration of JotSpot into Google’s suite of free online applications could encourage the use of wikis among schools, some observers say.

The announcement came Oct. 31 through separate postings at Google’s and JotSpot’s web journals. Terms were not disclosed.

JotSpot Chief Executive Joe Kraus said JotSpot would be able to tap into the internet search leader’s large user base and robust data centers, which are capable of handling any growth.

“Our vision has always been to take wikis out of the land of the nerds and bring them to the largest possible audience,” Kraus said in an interview. “There’s no larger audience that you can reach than one you can reach through Google.”

Wiki tools, popularized by the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, let users create, modify, and even delete information on what others in a group have developed.

In July, JotSpot released a new version that aims to make shared pages similar to spreadsheets, photo albums, and other software people already use. In the past, wiki tools have generally mimicked basic web pages or word-processing documents–photographs, for instance, might appear as a list of attachments, with no thumbnails previewing the image before downloading.

Kraus said Google shared his company’s vision for helping groups share information and work together online. As the two companies talked over the past nine months, he said, “we were completing each other’s sentences.”

Google’s acquisition of JotSpot, which closed Oct. 30, comes as the internet search leader is completing its purchase of the online video-sharing site YouTube Inc. for $1.65 billion in stock.

Earlier in the year, Google bought Upstartle, the maker of the online word-processing program Writely. Google has since packaged Writely with an online spreadsheet it developed in-house (see story: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/showStory.cfm?ArticleID=6656).

The free tools could help groups simultaneously work on documents over the web and provide alternatives to Microsoft Corp.’s dominant business-software applications, which run largely on computer desktops rather than the internet.

Kraus said Google’s acquisition of JotSpot “validates the notion that people want to do more online than just read. The web is moving from a monologue to a dialogue.”

As JotSpot makes the transition to Google’s systems, new registrations have been suspended. Existing users can continue using the service, and JotSpot will stop billing for paid accounts.

Kraus declined to discuss future product plans under Google. In the past, Google turned the Picasa Inc.’s $29 photo organizer into a free download, but it sold a premium version of Google Earth, a mapping product that incorporated technology acquired from Keyhole Corp.

JotSpot currently has 30,000 paid users at about 2,000 companies using its service hosted on premise or at JotSpot. About 10 times as many people use the free, JotSpot-hosted service, which restricts the number of pages and the size of the collaborating group.

Kraus said Google has yet to determine whether existing users eventually would have to sign up for free user IDs through Google, as Writely users ultimately had to do.

The universal identity could heighten privacy concerns, making it easier for governments to obtain one’s search history, eMail messages, word-processing documents, and now wiki data with just one subpoena. Kraus said users could delete accounts before migrating to Google.

Privacy concerns aside, some users of wikis in education applauded the move, saying it could help introduce more educators to the benefits of using wikis in the classroom. “It’s exciting to have [JotSpot] integrated with the rest of the Google tools, probably for free–it’s really cool,” said Tim Wilson, director of technology for the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose schools in Minnesota, about 30 miles west of Minneapolis.

Wilson said he has seen educators use wikis for such tasks as collaborating with students in other countries, as well as making a “Frequently Asked Questions” page on a school web site.

Having easy access to a wiki creation tool through Google might allow teachers “to pursue this technology if they are in a district where the tech leadership wouldn’t generally have the skill or the interest to install a wiki service,” he said, though he cautioned that teachers should be careful if their district’s IT department does not support the use of outside wikis for security or other reasons.

“It’s a great resource, potentially, but it’s also a potential point of contention in districts,” Wilson said.


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