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Social networking gets down to business

NewsGator’s first product was RSS aggregation for knowledge capture and monitoring. That focus was broadened to include expertise discovery via social networking, and the company then zeroed in on SharePoint as the collaboration and content management system it would support.

"We help organizations build out their understanding of people and groups," says Brian Kellner, VP of products for NewsGator. "If two people are tagging their profiles or content with a label like ‘mass spectrometry,’ they can easily form a group, and then a colleague can connect with them and rapidly leverage that relationship. In our platform, the social networking portion is designed to allow you to find people who are relevant to your work."

Innovation the easy wayA number of Enterprise 2.0 products have sprung up to support innovation. Brightidea, for example, is a hosted service specifically oriented toward capturing and managing new ideas

"We think the killer app for corporate social networking is innovation," says Matt Greeley, CEO of Brightidea. "It has a hard-dollar ROI right out of the gate, cuts costs and increases revenue, as well as being tied into a specific business process."

Greeley points out that many organizations are still siloed, with a variety of constraints inhibiting interactions between (for example) the marketing and engineering departments.

"The same way Facebook keeps people connected on a personal level, corporate social networking can bridge groups so they can see what is going on outside their own area," Greeley says.

Social networking makes it easier to stay in touch with a greater number of people than would be possible with one-to-one interactions, because numerous people can access the profile. For example, an employee attending a conference on alternative energy does not have to send out multiple e-mails, but can just post an announcement.

Brightidea was recently used by Cisco to manage ideas submitted in its I-Prize competition. Participants proposed their ideas, discussed them and met potential teammates on the site.

"We cannot advance our economy by throwing more money at the old way of doing things," Greeley says. "We need ways of expediting innovation to really move forward." Rapidly sharing ideas with individuals who have complementary skills can help reduce development time.

For the future

The development of standards would help to establish social networking more firmly in the corporate world, according to Byrne. "Profiles developed in connection with a content management system such as SharePoint are not aware of activities outside that repository. If standards were available, enterprises could have a central profile that is not tied to a specific platform," he says.

The availability of a profile that could be imported into multiple sites would also help users, because they would not have to create a new one for each community in which they participate.

Forrester predicts that eventually social networking and other Web 2.0 software will be subsumed into collaboration platforms and will no longer exist as separate products.

Social networking software helps workers find relevant people and content and share information easily. It will not replace the heavy lifting provided by detailed taxonomies and robust search engines, nor take over formal enterprise functions such as records management and compliance. However, it is proving its value in humanizing the workplace and supporting the agility needed in today’s economy. 

ECM vendors add a social touchThe leading enterprise content management (ECM) platforms reflect a diverse range of approaches to social networking, but most are playing catch up to where the standalone products have been.

Open Text is expected to release a social networking tool this month. "The workplace has automated about as much as it can using well established software tools," says Cheryl McKinnon, director of collaborative content management, "and people seem ready to bring the human voice back into the work environment."

The social networking module will be added to Open Text’s Enterprise 2.0 solutions offered in its ECM Suite, which also includes blogs and forums.

"The next generation wants to share content and photos on the job in the same flexible way that they do in their personal lives," McKinnon says. "People feel overwhelmed by e-mail at this point, and want a different way to interact in the workplace."

In 2008, IBM introduced Version 2.0 of IBM Lotus Connections, which includes profiles, communities, bookmarking and activities. During 2008, the product doubled its client base. Version 2.5, planned for mid-2009, adds wikis and a personal "wall" space. IBM also has a social software research project called Beehive, which is used internally for social networking and to test features for possible incorporation into Lotus Connections, but is not offered commercially.

EMC introduced social networking with Documentum Version 6.5 released last year. Oracle offers a collaboration platform called Beehive, but reportedly does not plan to incorporate Social Suite, a social networking tool currently used internally, into a commercial product.

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