Startup JotSpot has a new spin on Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet with its JotSpot Tracker hosted online service. The Tracker service enables users to cut and paste an Excel spreadsheet directly onto a secure JotSpot Web site so that anyone within an organization can view and edit the information contained in that spreadsheet.
JotSpot describes itself as an application wiki company. The "wiki" term describes Web sites that can be accessed and changed using a browser-based user interface. JotSpot specializes in turning wikis into Web-based applications so that users can change the applications in the same way that they'd alter wiki pages.
Tracker entered public beta testing Monday and is due to appear in a final 1.0 version within the next two to three months, according to Ken Norton, JotSpot's vice president of products. Missing from Tracker's public beta are the Excel formulas needed to perform calculations on the spreadsheet, but the company plans to offer them in the final release of the product, he said.
"We don't intend to replace Excel," Norton said in a phone interview Friday. "We're removing some of the friction when you try to use it in ways it wasn't intended for [such as collaborative work]. Excel is a single-user product."
Many organizations tend to treat Excel as a place to store information like a database rather than as a spreadsheet for performing calculations, according to Norton. Staff may use Excel to store their human resources information and project management data as well as more personal data on how to plan a holiday trip or a wedding, he said. Staff often e-mail an Excel spreadsheet as an attachment containing information needed to be updated around their organization. They then find it difficult to keep up with the different versions of the spreadsheet generated as different people make changes to the data contained in the file, Norton added.
With Tracker, users can log into a secure Web site and work collaboratively on a particular Excel spreadsheet, Norton said. Other users can also be invited to sign on to the site by their peers and be given different levels of access to the spreadsheet ranging from read-only to full wiki capability. They can also keep track of the changes made to the spreadsheet and export the online spreadsheet back into Excel at any time, he added.
Tracker also allows users to do things with Excel they can't do with the stand-alone version of the software. For instance, users can attach files or append notes to a given row in the online copy of the spreadsheet, according to Norton. They can also access a calendar or map view, which matches up the information contained in the spreadsheet. So, any dates listed in a Tracker spreadsheet will automatically appear in the calendar view, while any mention of cities, states, addresses or ZIP codes will be plotted in the map view which uses Google Maps, he said. "We're exposing an API [application programming interface] to developers to create additional mashups," Norton added, so a spreadsheet could link to all kinds of Web data sources including weather reports.
JotSpot's closed beta program for Tracker, which ran over the past few months, attracted a few thousand testers, according to Norton. Although the company only had a couple of hundred people enrolled in the program, the testers were allowed to invite their peers to try out Tracker. Given the interest in the service, JotSpot then decided to run an open beta program as of Monday, he said.
The size of the spreadsheet the closed beta testers chose to cut and paste into Tracker varied, with the average size being 20 to 30 rows long, according to Norton. However, some testers did use more sizeable spreadsheets ranging from hundreds of rows up to several thousand rows in length. Before releasing the full 1.0 version of Tracker, JotSpot needs to work on speeding up the service since performance at the moment tends to slow down when handling spreadsheets that are several thousands rows long, he said.
Another issue JotSpot will sort out before releasing Tracker to general availability is pricing, according to Norton. The company will use feedback from the public beta to work out the best pricing model, he said. For now, JotSpot is offering two pricing plans. There's a free-of-charge personal plan where a user can create two Tracker spreadsheets and invite a maximum of five other people to share those views. There's also a professional plan that allows a user to create up to 10 Tracker spreadsheets and invite as many users as they like to share the views for US$9.95 per month.
JotSpot is looking at providing similar services for other spreadsheets and for databases, particularly for the FileMaker database, Norton said.
Although the company is a startup, Norton claims JotSpot already has plenty of experience of hosting services with its other wiki applications over the past year. "People tend to question the security and stability of something new," he said, but they don't ask the same questions of existing applications. "How secure is Excel and e-mail?" Norton asked.
Norton also pointed to the backgrounds of JotSpot's management team as executives very familiar with operating "very, very large-scale Web-based businesses," he said. Based in Palo Alto, California, JotSpot was founded in 2004 and is headed up by two of the co-founders of Internet search company Excite -- Joe Kraus and Graham Spencer. Norton was previously senior director of product management at Yahoo.
Tracker can be accessed at http://tracker.jot.com/.