RealTime IT News

The $4.6B Business of The Social

The enterprise software market has been fairly bubbling in recent months with new products to bring social and collaborative features into the workplace.

Why all the excitement? According to Forrester research, vendors large and small developing Web 2.0 products for the enterprise are chasing a market that will reach $4.6 billion globally by 2013. That figure represents an annual compound growth of 43 percent over the $764 million projected for 2008.

In summing the parts of Web 2.0 for the enterprise, the Forrester researchers considering seven technologies: blogs, wikis, podcasting, mashups, RSS, social networking and widgets.

"In aggregate, Forrester believes that enterprise Web 2.0 technologies represent a fundamentally new way to connect with customers and prospects and to harness the collaborative power of employees," the researchers wrote.

Not surprisingly, the larger companies with distributed workforces are the ones investing most heavily in collaborative and social software applications. Smaller companies, where collaborating on a project with marketing or IT is often a matter of simply walking across the office, are the lowest proportional spenders on Web 2.0 applications for the enterprise. In arriving at its estimate of total spending, Forrester only considered companies with 1,000 or more employees.

Social networking figures to be the leading category in terms of spending through 2013. Forrester puts RSS as the second-biggest category this year, but looks ahead to mashups grabbing the No. 2 spot by 2013.

The roots of the trend are simple enough: The changing ways that people are interacting with information are not just a consumer phenomenon, according to Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann.

"Like so many innovations today, consumers start using stuff productively in their private lives, then look for ways to use it at work too," Mann told InternetNews.com. "IM, desktop search, Web 2.0, the iPhone all have made this jump. Enterprise social software is next."

Both Gartner and Forrester agree about that the phenomenon of introducing Web 2.0 tools into the workplace is a very real and growing trend. However, Gartner's most recent study on the market, offered a considerably more conservative estimate of the market.

Gartner predicted that the market would reach $707.7 million by 2011; Forrester estimates aggregate spending of $2.7 billion that year.

While the two studies measured roughly the same tools and technologies, Gartner's most recent market analysis was completed last July, suggesting that the market for enterprise 2.0 tools is growing rapidly enough that projections looking several years out are quickly regarded as too conservative.

Analysts at both firms admit that the term "Web 2.0" has been bloated with hype, and enterprise adoption will not gain traction until the productivity benefit is clear, but that process is already underway. With products such as Lotus Connections and its Mashup Center, IBM has recently been making some of the loudest moves in the space, but the marketplace is crowded already, with firms of all sizes jockeying for position -- from heavyweights like Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) to niche players like Jive Software.

As for Forrester's take on defining the term Web 2.0, it's boiled down to this:

"A set of technologies and applications that enable efficient interaction among people, content and data in support of collectively fostering new businesses, technology offerings and social structures."

Admitting that Web 2.0 features are still in their infancy, the Forrester researchers noted that the technologies are moving steadily toward the mainstream, as older users come to understand and embrace them, and major media firms ink deals with Web 2.0 vendors to soup up their online properties with more interactive features.