Quick Take Review - CubelessCommunities are fast becoming an important part of any business strategy -- whether they are internal communities, customer communities, partner communities or some combination thereof.

The choices on technical solution are numerous -- a recent Forrester report indicated there were over 100 community solutions in the marketplace today. This probably doesn't include solutions that come as part of a web content management platform. While we won't review all of them, CMSWire will take a look at some of the more well-known, and some not so well known solutions.

We encourage your feedback on our review process and suggestions for products to review. Submit your ideas to editorial team (contact info here).

The first community solution review we have for you hails from Sabre Holdings -- these are the guys who bring us Travelocity and all those airline reservation systems we love to hate.

Recently released to the general public, cubeless is a hosted internal -- or corporate -- community solution. It is a simple community solution without all the functionality you typically see in the more well-known offerings, but that doesn't mean its not worth looking at. In fact, it may mean just the opposite -- depending on your requirements.

We know that many organizations today are implementing or considering implementing some kind of community internally. They are starting to understand the benefits of internal communities such as knowledge sharing, expertise locating and employee team building.

There are a number of options out there today that can support internal communities. cubeless, is one of these. Built by Sabre Holdings, it is designed specifically for the corporate audience providing "communication the way we are use to communicating".

The mantra of the cubeless community is simplicity or "simplicity works". The community is about the people, not the technology and therefore all the extras are not really required, that's not typically the way people work.

cubeless is the recognition that enterprise social networking is helpful and encourages the sharing of knowledge and the reduction in effort to find people and information needed to do one's job.

The Basic Story



Vendor  Sabre Holdings
Product Name
 cubeless
Product Category
 Social Software
Typical Scenario
 Corporate social networking, with blogging, profiles, Q&A, groups

Company & Product History

At one time, Sabre Holdings had the largest data processing system. A private company with over 9,000 employees in 59 countries, Sabre securely manages mission critical applications for some of the biggest companies you can name -- Amex, Lockheed Martin, Toyota, Apple.

Sabre built the first predictive modeling system over 50 years ago. Why is this important? Because it is this technology that drives the core of cubeless.

Primarily a travel technology company -- they own Travelocity and a number of online travel reservation systems -- you might wonder how Sabre ever got into social software like cubeless.

Well, they are their own real life case study. Sabre started playing with social networking solutions as an experiment for business travel in their innovations lab. However they soon saw another greater need internally. A geographically dispersed workforce that includes a number of telecommuters, Sabre's employees lacked a sense of connection with the company and a way to quickly and easily find people and resources to do their jobs.

Sabre kept the concept and rebuilt the code in September 2007, naming their first internal community: SabreTown.

The platform: cubeless. For eight months they productized the solution and in January of this year, officially released it to the general market.

Market & Pricing

As a new solution, Sabre is still working out the market for cubeless. However, we do know it's for an internal audience and is business focused. Its use can cross all functions in the enterprise -- as do most community solutions.

Pricing

This is a hosted solution with an Annual License fee, based on the number of users. It currently lists at approximately US$52, 600 for 10,000 employees. There is an install fee of US$ 15,000.

cubeless is offered as a standard package that is not customizable, so what you see is what you get. They say it takes about 4-6 weeks to install.

Key Features and Ratings

Core Technologies 

cubeless is built using Ruby on Rails, Javascript and JQuery. The backend database is MySQL.

It is a white label solution so it can be branded to match the company using it.

The relevance engine, based on Sabre's predictive modeling technology is the key component to the cubeless solution. It uses both user profiles, blogs and existing Q&A to determine the top 20 people who would best have the answer to a new question and then delivers an email to those users requesting a response.

Dashboard

In cubeless, the main dashboard is called the "Hub". This is the landing page and the main communication page for the organization. There is a banner at the top that can be changed and there is one widget on the page that you can use for external content you want to make available.

groundswell hub copy.jpg
cubeless Hub

Other widgets on the Hub include Ask A Question, Latest Community Question, Explore Profiles, Recent Notes, Hot Topics and more.

There is also an action stream on the right hand side of the Hub showing the latest activity happening in the community.

Navigation across the top of the Hub page lead you to the primary locations in the community, including Ask the Community, Explore and My Stuff.

Profiles

One of the key components within cubeless is the employee profile. Every employee must complete a profile as there is no anonymous content allowed.

cubeless profile page.jpg cubeless Profile Page

There are a number of questions that an employee must fill out. These questions are completely customizable to the particular company. They are used by the relevance engine to find people who can answer questions submitted by other employees.

Profiles are searchable.

Blogs

Each employee has their own blog. The blog includes a simple text editor and a blog entry can contain hyperlinks and images that are located somewhere else. Blogs have threaded comments and can be rated.

Wikis

cubeless does not contain Wiki capabilities.

Forums

cubeless does not contain Forum capabilities

Questions and Answers

Questions and Answers are the primary tool within cubeless. No question or answer can be anonymous, this is a completely open and answerable community.

Questions are categorized and the categories are defined by the company.

cubeless questions copy.jpg
cubeless Questions and Answers

When you post a question, you can indicate how long the question will accept answers. This feature is useful because you can limit the time frame in which people can respond to your question. You certainly don't need people responding to a question about a proposal you are working on a year after it has been submitted.

Note in the image above two buttons on the right-hand side of each question. Clicking "Answer" will provide you with a form to write your answer. Clicking "Refer" will send an email to someone you think can answer the question.

There are also several options available as links underneath the question depending on if you asked the question yourself or are viewing someone else's question. "Watch this" places this question in your Q&A section so you can keep an eye on the answers coming in. "Shady" means you think the question in inappropriate. If you are the question creator, you have an "Edit" and "Delete" option.

The community can rate the answers to the question and you can nominate a particular answer as the best one. This one will be shown first in the list of answers.

Groups

You are able to create groups in cubeless. They are generally topic focused and can be either public, private or by invite only.

There is one owner of a group, but it can have many moderators.

Groups have all the same capabilities as you have as an individual with the exception of a detailed profile page. Groups also have the ability to add Photos and Group Talk which are group conversations.

cubeless tig pm group.jpg
cubeless Groups

Additional Capabilities

cubeless has some additional capabilities such as:

  • Activity Streams: cubeless uses Activity Streams for the community or group as a whole and not for an individual. These streams are displayed in several locations within the community.
  • Following: You can follow specific people or groups, limiting your view by questions or blog posts. This is not quite like a Friends list in that you ask someone to be your Friend and then get a regular blast of their activity. Following simply puts all the activity you want to watch closely in a single location which can be pulled into an RSS reader.
  • Sticky Notes: These are little 100 character notes you can write on your own profile or someone elses. They display on your profile as real sticky notes.
  • Karma: Karma is a points systems. You earn points by doing good things like answer questions or people rate your answers highly. When you get enough Karma points, you can add additional photos to your profile.
  • Mobile Access: The cubeless website can be viewed on a mobile device, but there is no specific mobile version of the application

Security and Administration

Security for cubeless can be automated through Active Directory. As users are added to Active Directory, then can get access to the community.

There is an Administration module to access things like user setup and maintenance, content marked as Shady, to change the Hub banner and contact information, report access and award uploading and provisioning. Admin functions can be given to different administrators.

Sabre itself has three administrators for a community of 9,000. These administrators spend less than two hours per week on administration tasks.

Reporting

There are over 200 different data points available to report on. The most commonly used reports include:

  • Information on Questions asked: How many, how many are answered, how quickly are they answered, how many answers each question has
  • Profile Completion: Includes line item percentages of how many members have completed each element in the profile
  • Top Community Contributors
  • Number of users at each Karma level - which is a show of activity and use of the community.

Multi-Lingual Support

Although cubeless is an English application in terms of navigation, instruction and application text, users of the community can input content in any language they wish.

Content input in languages other than English can impact the results determined by the relevance engine as it does work as well when content is in multiple languages. This is due to how synonyms for a term often occur differently in other languages.

It is recommended that questions for the global community be asked in English to ensure the best possible results. Sabre has found that their own employees will ask and answer community-wide questions in English, but often leave notes and more one-on-one communications in their native language.

Customizability & Integration

You cannot customize cubeless, it is a packaged solution. You can, however, integrate cubeless into your existing Portal or Intranet via a widget. This widget connects with cubeless using XML and an API.

Content Delivery Architecture

cubeless is a hosted solution within Sabre's own data centers. We couldn't get much information on the scalability and security of the system, but if these data centers host the high profile company applications mentioned above, it's probably safe to assume you are in good hands.

Each community is an independent install, so it's not true multi-tenant SaaS. There are bi-weekly iterations of the solution as well as monthly releases. New development is prioritized based on user feedback.

Similar Products

As we have said, there are a number of community solutions available today. In this case, we are looking at internal community solutions that offer similar, and in some cases more, functionality. Examples include Awareness, Telligent's Community Server and Tomoye.

In addition, you see solutions like Jive's new Business Social Software Suite as a potential alternative.

Summary

Here's a summary table of the review (rating is 0.0-5.0 with 5.0 being the best):


 

Feature Description Rating
Product Core Technology    
Dashboard  Community Activity Stream, standard widgets, one customizable external content widget  4
Blogs  Basic Blogging, threaded comments and rating  3
Wikis  None  0
Forums  None  0
Questions and Answers
 Full Featured, Categorized, Answer Rating/Best Answer/Expiration Date  5
Groups  Public, Private, Invitation Only, full functionality  4
Additional Capabilities  Activity Streams, Karma, Following  4
Security and Administration
 Integration with AD  3
Reporting  Basic Activity reporting  3
Customizability and Integration  Productized, integrated in Portal/Intranet  2.5
Multi-Lingual Support  English only  0
Content Delivery Architecture
 Hosted in Sabre Data Centers  5

cubeless is an enterprise social networking community solution. The key to recognize here is that it really is about corporate social networking. The hosted solution is designed specifically for the corporate internal audience and contains basic community functionality that is considered important to an internal community solutions.

cubeless is about simplicity and providing a space where member can easily find assistance with things they are working on. But it's also a place to simply build a community feeling within a company, regardless of geography. It's a fun solution, with little things that make members want to participate for more than just work purposes.

The fact that it is a streamlined community solution is important to think about. Although there are plans for enhancements, you are not likely to see new functionality in the sense of wikis, personal activity streams and forums. So you need to be very clear on your purpose for your community and be sure cubeless fits your current and future needs.

The Future of cubeless

While there is no official roadmap, there are plans for enhancements in cubeless' future. These include deeper integration with third party systems, like SharePoint, Learning Management Systems and Intranets.

Sabre also intends to broaden accessibility to the cubeless community from mobile devices and the desktop and they want to increase group functionality so they can provide more value within the community.

Final Thoughts

Upon first blush, we initially looked past the cubeless solution, thinking it was okay, but nothing really special. An offer to get a more indepth review came and we took it. cubeless is not for everyone, but it is does fit a particular niche, particularly if you are trying to find expertise in a geography dispersed organization.

One of the things that made the review unique was access to a demo community that people from Sabre actually participated in, providing a real life perspective on how cubeless is used. This lent a real feeling on how a community can work and how cubeless itself works.

If you are looking for a community solution that doesn't have every piece of capability a social software solution can have and you are sure you won't need all these extras in the near future, take demo of cubeless and see how it feels to you.