SocialCalc has one really big, really obvious benefit over traditional spreadsheets like Excel: it’s distributed. In other words, more than one person can work on it at a time. But as ZDNet’s David Greenfield and others have pointed out, we’re not the first ones to have delivered distributed spreadsheeting.
What’s different about SocialCalc–and I think it’s really fundamental–is that SocialCalc is integrated into a wiki. You can drop a spreadsheet into a wiki page. You can drop wiki text into a spreadsheet. You can link from a spreadsheet to a wiki page that explains where the numbers came from. In short, you can talk about the numbers.
Being able to add an active spreadsheet to a wiki page opens up some very important possibilities.
Numerical models have been created with spreadsheets since the beginning. However, the development of them has usually been a solitary ad hoc undertaking. Other, more communal approaches to creating them (i.e. meetings, email) have been too cumbersome.
And, often when the model has been generated, it can be hard to modify or to correct errors. Heck, even just finding the error in the first place is not easy. Data indicate that almost every large spreadsheet can contain errors, yet these tools continue to be used.
But putting the models in a wiki, bringing openness to the creation of the model, makes it much easier to create very complex numerical models. It can provide some more rigor to its development. There has already been some discussion of the positive benefits of making spreadsheet development more collaborative. It will be interesting to see how well this innovation works in a research setting.
Technorati Tags: Web 2.0