We like to push our latest version out early to our own functional sites, so we can discover any issues quickly. Yea, we have QA testing all of these features, but there is nothing like working with it in a live environment, with real people, real data, using it day in and day out. It also gives our customers a sneak-peak of what is coming.
A beta version of the new release has also been available for a few weeks, for those anxious to get going on the new version — who are mostly new customers who didn’t want to start on the older version. And we’ve been working like mad to wrap up issues that we’ve found that could impact our customers’ success, continuing to make last-minute tweaks and enhancements that customers have said they need to achieve their goals.
We have so many new features and enhancements in the new 4.5 version that we struggle calling it a “minor release,” which is why we’ve jumped the version from 4.0 to 4.5.
Reflections on this release
Our fluid and dynamic product development model is something that our customers appreciate — because it allows them to be responsive — responsive to changes they want to make as their requirements and vision changes over time.
But it can be a bit difficult for some people that are accustomed to how other software companies plan their releases years in advance, based on how they think you should be working.
In this post we discuss our approach and introduce our upcoming new release of Communifire 4.5.
When talking with prospective customers, we’re often asked about our product roadmap. They want to make sure that we are heading where they see themselves going.
But, the fact is, we don’t have a fixed roadmap for our product development with years plotted out in advance.
Six months is a huge stretch for us.
We’ve found that social business, in general, and the software to support social business, changes far too quickly for an extended roadmap to make sense. Plus, since each customer has their own unique vision for their community and how they want it to work, what needs to be developed at any time is highly dependent upon who is partnering with us at that specific time.
When asked why we don’t have “this feature” or “that feature,” the answer is usually … “because it hasn’t been important to a customer yet.“
We build out what our customers need now, after having focused early in the product’s development on building the foundation of Communifire to support such a flexible and responsive approach.
So, we explain to new prospects that Communifire is going where our customers want to be, because our development path is driven by them, often in very short time frames.
When we start work on a new release (typically 2-3 times a year), we begin with a bunch of customer requests and requirements, bundling them together in a single release. We realized very early on that having too many releases a year is disruptive for our customers.
With that initial set of work defined, we establish an expected release date. But invariably, as we work on the initial feature set, new, urgent customer requirements pop up, which require us to work with customers even closer to see what all we can get in and still meet everyone’s timelines.
The fact is, that up to close to the very end of the development process we can still fit in new enhancements and features into a new release. It’s an exciting and stressful time leading up to a release, but that’s what we’re all about, giving our customers — each with their unique vision for social business — what they need, when they need it. Everyone working and compromising together helps keep the Communifire product moving forward and the costs reasonable (Which are 1/4 – 1/10 of the price of our most comparable competitors).
The above reflections were prompted by the fact that we’re reaching the end of another release cycle.
Let’s get into the new features …
New Feature: Ideation
Topping the bill of changes in Communifire 4.5 is a whole new content type: the “idea.”
You can now submit ideas to the top level community and in spaces, for any number of categories you set up. Other members can then discuss the idea in comments, rate it, like it, and most significantly, vote it up (or down).
The purpose, of course, is to improve the idea collaboratively and then allow the best ideas (most voted) to surface to the top.
New Feature: Analytics
Another new functional area is the built-in analytics. Communifire has always worked well with third party analytics packages (like Google Analytics). And of course, it would be difficult for us to improve on what they do, as that is a significant focus for them. Instead, the purpose of our built-in analytics is three-fold:
- to provide basic information about visits, users, browsers, and OS stats — for people who don’t need all that a third-party application provides
- to provide a high-level view of the top content for a community and individual spaces; and
- to provide a hook for future development to satisfy unique requirements of our customers
New Feature: Personal Calendars
The calendar functionality of Communifire received a significant overhaul as well.
Communifire has long been a compelling alternative to email for communication between members of the community (in fact we rarely send emails internally at Axero).
Communication becomes much more social and organic with Communifire. But, we found that the event management functionality in Communifire was a bit too social, useful for community and space events, but not a useful tool to replace personal calendars in Outlook or Google Calendar.
With this new version, we’ve added a personal calendaring system that will allow you to keep track of your own appointments, invite others (from inside and outside of the community), and share your calendars with others. Like all of the functionality in Communifire, it is just the beginning of what will be possible in the future, driven by customer requirements.
New Feature: Follow Button
We’ve added the ability for you and your users to follow content written or created by others. A “Follow” (or “Unfollow”) button was added to detail pages for blogs, articles, events, files, photos, photo albums, wikis, and videos.
When a user is following content, they get notified whenever an edit is made to the content or a new comment is submitted. This introduces a new workflow when working with content.
A user typically discovers content in a few different ways:
- new content is pushed to them in their Activity Stream,
- they find existing content when browsing or searching,
- it is shared with them by another user, or
- they find existing content through references in the Activity Ticker when someone else interacts with it
Then, once the user discovers content, they can click through to examine it more closely. After reviewing the content, they might choose to stay informed of developments with it, without commenting on, or interacting with it. In this case, they can now click the Follow button, which will raise updates from their Activity Ticker to their more prominant Notifications feed.
Additional enhancements to mention:
With those four major features, you may see how difficult it was for us to call this a minor release.
On top of those, we also had a long list of less substantial — but still significant — improvements. For example:
Enhancement: WYSIWYG Text Editor
We’ve introduced a new version of the text editor in Communifire, to give content creation and publishing a significantly better experience.
Enhancement: Wiki compare
We’ve enhanced the wiki comparison technology to make it easier to spot changes to in versions of a document. Changes are now color coded and highlighted.
Enhancement: Wiki lock
When someone is editing a wiki in the new version, it locks the wiki to prevent other users from editing it at the same time.
Enhancement: Search inside documents
Document & file contents (inside Word docs, text files, and most other MS Office or Open Office file formats) are now indexed and are used to produce search results.
In addition to these, we also added a broad assortment of less substantial tweaks and enhancements to the user interface and user experience of the platform.
The complete release notes are available upon request.
Where Communifire is heading
If you were paying attention to the above, you already know the answer to this.
We’re relentlessly driven by our customers’ success.
If there is something you need to be successful with Communifire, talk to us. Tell us where you want or need to go and we’ll do everything we can to make sure Communifire can get you there on time.
The flexibility of the platform should not be under-estimated. At the moment, we see the personal profiles, chat, and document management as three significant targets for enhancements in the next version or two.
Questions? Let us know.