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VentureBeat: A brief history of social network enterprise collaboration tools

Original post: A brief history of social network enterprise collaboration tools, VentureBeat

Social networking has become an integral part of office life. These commercial tools – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – are being used by more than half of employees, according to one study. But some companies have taken a reactive stance against these tools due to privacy or transparency concerns, and the number of companies selling tools specifically for enterprise continues to increase.

On top of this, the downward shift in the economy has forced companies to make do with less. Employees have had to learn to maximize their time and productivity and social networking collaboration tools for enterprise have allowed for the streamlining of information within a company. “Social networks make it easy for participants to share unstructured and ad hoc information that can decrease the time it takes to find information to solve problems. Social networks also encourage employees to help each other,” wrote Caroline Dangson, a research analyst at IDC. These enterprise collaboration tools continue to gain traction, with Cisco chief technology officer Padmasree Warrior recently predicting that the collaboration market could swell to be a $34 billion business.

“These products have to be more than a Facebook for business,” said Dangson. “So, we’ve seen some of the smaller players try and differentiate themselves.” Dangson sees a bright future for these tools, and an IDC report from August of this year sees large growth potential despite an entrenched reluctance from corporate culture to adopt to the rapidly-changing need for a more transparent environment.

“Corporate culture has everything to do with the current state of adoption of online community software. Online community software requires a community management model where leadership is distributed, all participants have voice, and employees feel they can initiate change. This model challenges, if not disrupts, the hierarchical management model of so many organizations today,” said the report, “U.S. Online Community Software Forecast 2009-2013.” The report predicts a $1.5-billion market by 2013.

“The return on investment is a big question,” said Dangson. “The phrase that kept coming up in my interviews with vendors was ‘connecting the dots.’ There’s a strong physical network within a company, and the social network extends this to weak ties within the company or externally. There’s still a lot of skepticism, as they need to know exactly the ROI.”

With this in mind, we thought it would be good to provide an overview of a few of the key players in the social networking enterprise collaboration market.

Socialcast bills its product as “enterprise microblogging” and it’s hard to be more concise than that. True Ventures funded $1-million for the company to further develop the tool that helps employees communicate in real time, using a Facebook-derivative interface to share new information, organize people and contacts, view questions from other employees, create a Socialbast e-mail, and find experts. The company has also tradmarked something called “Social Business Intelligence,” analytics used to track information flow, usage trends, community growth and participation patterns within a Socialcast community.

Jive Software is quickly establishing itself as a market leader, having recently received $12-million in Series B funding from Sequoia and moved its expanding employee base to Palo Alto. Jive’s SBS 4.0 includes blogs, tags, videos, social bookmarks, collaborative documents, an MS Office document previewer, polls, rich profiles, and status updates. Gartner Research, in its October 2009 report “Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workforce,” placed Jive inside of its “leaders” quadrant alongside Microsoft and IBM.

Mzinga’s OmniSocial faces both internally and externally, with products specifically for the workforce (OmniSocial HR), customers (OmniSocial Marketing), and customer support (OmniSocial Support). The product has many features, including networking, idea sharing, ratings and polls, HR functions, team-based content offering, and a simplified administration environment.

Yammer is a limited-use microblogging service that provides short answers within and between employees to one question: “What are you working on?” The feed that results from this question contains answers, news, ideas, and links to other information. The company directory within Yammer also allows for looking at the expertise of other employees, but the information is shared on a strictly private network.

Launched just a few months ago, Dekks, the first product from I.ndigo, is a way of building a knowledge network within a company. It does this by creating an automated way to find the proper source for information once an employee has entered a query. Employees are given what Dekks calls a ‘pulse’ (aka, a feed) where updates, messages, polls and tasks indicate the hot topics within a company. The product is also useful for management, allowing them to map a knowledge network within a company, where knowlege and people are interconnected.

chatterSalesforce Chatter
Billed as a way to “completely transform the way you collaborate with people in your company,” Salesforce Chatter features real-time updates on people, groups, documents and application data. It does this by using a cloud computing interface, enabling a private and secure collaboration environment using a real-time feed. Judging by the demo, Chatter looks remarkably like Facebook and Twitter, despite the fact that company chief exec Marc Benioff has downplayed the “social” nature of the product in favor of the “collaboration” angle, most likely so as to be taken more seriously by a sales team. For the sales force, Chatter allows people to drill down into sale figures and sales opportunities and to follow the movement of an account in real time. Chatter also allows for widget embeds, such as Twitter, into its pages, and the product is also available for mobile devices. Chatter will be available to the general public in mid-2010.

mindtouchMindTouch Enterprise – This is a cloud product. MindTouch Enterprise is an ‘enterprise wiki’ where docs can be shared and co-edited with update notifications. It also includes things called “CRM connectors” and “CRM and database dashboards” as well as microblogging, chat, task lists, and user profile pages within an environment that uses a variety of security levels. Its video notes that social tools “are not for business collaboration and decision-making” and touts MindTouch as a decent alternative to this. According to its site, MindTouch counts Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, Mozilla, Palm, and NASA among its client list.

webexWebEx Meetings/Connect/E-mail
Cisco offers three collaboration products which can be easily confused. We’ll discuss them separately, although there have been suggestions that they will eventually become one application. Connect allows for online collaboration, messaging, audio/video/VoiP connecting, and the ability to create project teams in a secure environment. Meetings is a robust real-time collaboration space that offers real-time desktop sharing with teleconferencing, where you can not only share documents but presentations and applications. It is supported on Windows, Mac, and Linux, Unix and 3G-enabled smart phones and is the only Web conferencing solution offered over a proprietary network, optimized for security and performance. With Meetings, not everyone needs to subscribe to WebEx to be part of a meeting. WebEx Mail, meanwhile, is the third collaboration product. It allows for larger storage space and ease-of-use for mobile devices. In the future, it promises an easy way to integrate WebEx Mail into Web conferencing, social networking, unified communications, and instant messaging. All of these products are delivered through the Cisco WebEx Collaboration Cloud.

Microsoft’s SharePoint has been a huge growth product for the firm, and a 2010 beta was released in the last few weeks. Of course, SharePoint benefits from being part of the Microsoft lineup of software, but it has still had to prove itself in the marketplace, and it seems to be doing so. On each SharePoint site, users can search for content, information, and experts, build communities, and build ‘composites,’ which the company defines as “no-code solutions on the premises or in the cloud, a rich set of building blocks, tools and self-service capabilities.” For its latest version, all of the collaboration solutions have been integrated into SharePoint, allowing for a more agile way of scaling “up and out quickly,” according to company lit.

sametimeLotus Sametime
IBM’s Lotus Sametime Standard is a space where IM, e-mail, Webconferencing, and optional audio/video are all part of one package.  Lotus Sametime Advanced one-ups Standard by creating a knowledge-sharing paradigm, wherein finding experts in a particular field – even people you don’t know and who aren’t in a preexisting contact list – can be accomplished. Users can also subscribe to chat rooms and follow topic discussions, using ‘persistent group chat.’ Advanced also lets you share your desktop using a screen share function and allows for some curious ‘geographic location services’ where users can track the physical location of others.

This is a new offering from Google and as with any Google product, it made quite a splash. Currently in beta, Wave creates a “wave” – a shared space – that allows users to share and collaborate on rich data, including documents photos, gadgets, feeds from other sources on the Web, and others, but many of which are currently not functional. It looks like a dressed-up Gmail program, and some in the blogosphere have noted that Wave may be good for short-term collaborative needs, but not for anything particularly robust. But Google docs have become a defacto collaborative tool for many low-level users, so expectations for Wave are pretty high.

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