TWiki starts funding search as co-founder heads to Washington

What does the design of enterprise wiki software have to do with stopping hackers from compromising Federal computers? Nothing directly perhaps, but it does help organizations decentralize themselves, which is something that government agencies have been attempting to do in order to better manage information throughout their ranks.

The connection becomes clearer with the news that TWiki.net co-founder and CEO Rod Beckstrom, who’s considered an expert on leaderless organizations, is leaving the open-source wiki company to take a top post with the Department of Homeland Security. According to the Washington Post, his role with the DHS will be to consult on cyber attacks.

In addition to his role at TWiki.net, Beckstrom is also co-author of a book called The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, whose name he explained to us in an interview last year as inspired by “open systems that everyone can contribute to, but which have some structure, much like the neural ring which connects the various independent arms of a starfish.” That’s a clever metaphor for what many in the internet world have known for several years: Collaboration and open structures are powerful medicine for organizations.

That the Bush administration is catching on to the same idea is a bit more surprising. But according to Thomas Barton, who’s replacing Beckstrom as TWiki’s new chairman and CEO and who is a fomer exec of open source vendor Red Hat, both business and government are starting to realize that Wiki software, which allows open collaboration and document tools that any user can modify, could be important to their own structures.

There are various companies selling enterprise wiki software, most notably Atlassian, but TWiki.net is based on open-source code; it makes its money solely from support and added services. “I think there’s the potential here to create a company that’s worth as much as Red Hat in the long term,” says Barton. Red Hat, for reference, is currently worth about $3.5 billion.

Barton declined to give a current valuation for TWiki, but said the company is on the hunt for $4 – 5 million to expand its operations. It has so far taken only about $1 million. He says there are likely over 60,000 deployments of the TWiki code, although companies are free to try to run the software themselves, without services from TWiki.net.

However, he doesn’t expect to require much time to pick up some significant momentum. Projecting revenues for next year at about $5 million, and $20 million the year after, Barton says the gross margins could be even more exciting; for some open-source companies, they’re as high as 95 percent.

TWiki could also be attractive for the small IT budgets currently set aside for wikis. At about $500 yearly for up to five users, or $5000 for 500 users, it’s cheaper than most competitors, and companies can run it for free until they decide they need support.

TWiki is based in Sunnyvale, Calif.

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