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Enterprise-friendly social software

"Socialtext works well for both power users—our research staff loves it—and for busy executives," he says. The Socialtext workspace also includes a Google international time clock widget that allows staff to find out the time at their overseas offices.

Socialtext 3.0 was introduced in September, and adds a Facebook-style social networking feature along with a Socialtext dashboard. "The dashboard is a personal home page that contains widgets that allow you to display information and easily see items of importance to you. For example, you can discover the edits, comments and actions that your coworkers are performing," says Ross Mayfield, president and co-founder of Socialtext.

Socialtext has devoted significant effort to making its products easy to integrate with other enterprise solutions. "We expect to see more mashups with our product and traditional content management [products]. It’s easy to make other enterprise applications ‘social,’" Mayfield says. The ability to link to other applications provides other ways of alerting users to new information. For example, they can be notified if a new file has been added to Sharepoint. Socialtext has also developed a miki, which is a lightweight version of the wiki for use on mobile devices.

In addition to SocialCalc, a multi-user, wiki-based spreadsheet program, Socialtext also announced Socialtext Signals, a Twitter-style, micro-blogging interface that goes beyond simple "tweets" by integrating both automated and manual updates with social networking context, further expanding the company’s business communications offerings for the enterprise. Both SocialCalc and Signals are in beta.

Multipurpose platform

A chronic complaint about some categories of enterprise software is that they are difficult to use and, therefore, discourage participation. In fact, the difficulty of using some enterprise collaboration products helped spawn the proliferation of rogue blogs and wikis. Now, some easy-to-use platforms are emerging that combine a simplified version of document management with social software functionality.

Noodle from Vialect was designed as a multipurpose platform. "Most of the organizations that purchase Noodle are primarily interested in one of its features—often it’s document management—but because it’s so easy to add others, they broaden their use," says Tim Dorey, founder and CEO of Vialect.

A West Coast law firm began using Noodle to set up a hierarchy for its documents, which were hard to find because they were scattered across many hard drives. A credit union is using the blogs as a way to collaborate in connection with its training programs. And an architectural firm is using the workspace to share documents and drawings to help projects move forward more efficiently.

"The use of a platform to easily manage all kinds of information across the enterprise is going to be a mass market," predicts Dorey, "but they have to be easier to use."

One unique component is a profile page that includes typical contact information but also presents a pie chart called "corporate wisdom." It reflects three categories for the individual’s participation in corporate content: contributed, reviewed or unread.

"This is a way to engage individuals and highlight their involvement within the context of an overall information management structure," Dorey explains. The chart changes dynamically as the user interacts with more content.

FiveHT Media is a Web agency that specializes in data-driven Flash applications. Those applications provide a dynamic user experience by incorporating information from a database or other outside source into an interactive, animated Web environment.

"Clients are now demanding the same level of interactivity and flexibility in their corporate intranets as has been found in consumer Web sites," says David Arril, CEO of FiveHT. "Promoting productivity through rich media social components and wiki features is critical to the success of modern corporate intranets."

FiveHT looked for a solution that would provide the infrastructure to build an advanced intranet solution, and after comprehensive market research, the company settled on Noodle.

Enterprises are increasingly seeking applications that incorporate social software. "Whether the organization is a large retail store or a government agency, the ability to share ideas and solutions is critical," Arril explains. "Noodle helps facilitate more efficient business processes."

Although Noodle is often used in a standalone mode, the enhancement with Flash animation and additional customization makes for a much more interesting user experience. From the developer’s and customer’s perspective, using Noodle as the infrastructure for the social elements of an intranet increases efficiency and deployment time by reducing the amount of custom code required for the application.

Noodle is offered by Vialect as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product, a custom hosted product or as an on-premise installed product. Its ease of use and suitability to the corporate environment have been two of its strengths.

"A small to medium-sized company can be up and running in 10 minutes," says Dorey. "It also synchronizes with the lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) to allow assignment of roles and access privileges." With a modest cost and a quick implementation, Noodle has attracted clients in a variety of sectors ranging from education to legal and food service industries.

The use of social software in enterprises will continue to grow, driven by a combination of user needs and steadily improving technology. When properly managed, they help build community and support productivity.

IBM’s Center for Social Software

Recognizing the increasing importance of Web 2.0 in enterprise computing, IBM has established a Center for Social Software. The center is intended to foster business use of Web 2.0 implementations across global organizations. One goal is to explore, innovate and commercialize best practices in social networking; another is to work with other organizations to create jointly funded research projects.

In addition, the center will help develop policies and standards, and is expected to play a role in the development of IBM’s own collaboration portfolio for such solutions as social search and social discovery. The center hopes to become the leading incubator for social technology.

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