Does PBworks Work?

Bookmark and Share Thursday, April 30, 2009

PBworksEarlier this week PBwiki changed its name to PBworks. Changing the name of a company with the kind of mind share PBwiki holds is significant. I’m sure there was a lot of hand-wringing over there about this decision. The move is clearly to establish more credibility in the corporate arena, where the term “wiki” is soiled with connotations of insecurity and communism. This change happens at the same time that the company launched a Legal edition with special intranet features aimed at legal firms. You can see a business model emerging where PBworks will be the intranet software vendor of choice for their targeted markets and their software will move further and further from what is commonly considered a wiki. Framed that way, the new name makes sense.

To round out the name change, they’ve dropped the friendly sandwich logo for an industrial all-cap black and gray logo. The PB in PBworks now feels a bit awkward, left there without any context in an effort to maintain what brand identity has been established under PBwiki. And I’m going to say it: the new logo is cold, heartless and probably the result of a lot of corporate groupthink.

With this strategy, PBworks joins the cadre of web start ups that have gained wide use through free service offerings and are now looking to increase the paid end of their business to achieve the 10-100X payback their investors are expecting. Hosting a million free wikis doesn’t come cheap. The pricing model shows this. Individual insecure private sites with limited customization and no backups are free. Welcome aboard! Public wikis you can smack your logo and color scheme into are $499/year, or about $41/mo. This service is an afterthought on their sign up page - a teeny gray link below the fold at the bottom of the sign-up page.

Private, customizable backed-up sites or sites with multiple work-spaces start at a whopping $8/user/mo starting at the fourth user. And the legal edition? $50/mo/attorney. Somehow they let non-attorneys use it for free. So a relatively small 25 person company will pay $176/mo for the “Pro” version. A still relatively small 50 person company will pay $376/mo. The kind of large enterprisy companies their new branding seems to target will be paying astronomical fees. Is a 4,000 person company going to pay $31,976/mo for this service? PBworks is good software, to be sure, but I question whether this pricing will be sustainable in the long run.

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