RealTime IT News

Spoke Builds on Social Networking Patent Portfolio

Ask any sales person within your company to give up one of their hard-earned contacts and you're likely to meet stony silence as they look for a way to keep that information to themselves. Spoke Software only wants to help spread the sales person's contacts, and is turning skeptics about the process into believers.

Protecting a sales person's privacy and at the same time giving other enterprise employees access to the same network of contacts is the basis for 15 technology patents filed with the U.S. Patent Office by Spoke Software.

The Spoke Enterprise Edition and Spoke Showcase Network give large corporations inside access to thousands of people around the world, a network of contacts gathered by its own employees. Already in its third generation, Spoke officials claim they are far ahead of the competition with the help of the patents.

The best part of the technology, according to Chris Tolles, Spoke's vice president of marketing and one of the company's seven founders, is that it involves zero data entry -- no forms to fill out, no human resources specialist going around asking hundreds of questions -- which means that almost immediately after downloading the application, it's ready for use by everyone on the network.

"Its time to value is about 10 minutes," he said.

The information is garnered through the employee's own workstation application, be it Microsoft Outlook, AOL Instant Messenger or the Web sites they've visited. Spoke has already integrated a host of computer applications to its Showcase Network (alternative e-mail client Eudora went online Friday).

Digging through people's emails and using them for a intranet database, for use by the entire corporation, is one of the reason's Spoke has been working to build new technology that protects the employee's privacy.

"Getting people to give up their extended relationships is very hard," Tolles said. Making a successful product, he said, required software that lets the employee limit the extent of the information given out.

Tolles said that any one employee has anywhere between 1,500 to 3,000 instances of relationships residing in their computer, whether it's a direct line into another company, or just the friend of a friend who knows someone at the target company.

The software isn't designed to let sales people go on a name-dropping bonanza and possibly ruining existing relationships. It's designed to get help from other people in the company to help out with relationships already formed to save time.

For example, say sales person Bob at Company X needs to contact the IT manager at Company Y for a potential sale. Not knowing whom the IT manager is, Bob would call up the Showcase application and type in the name of Company Y, hoping for a match. Tom in human resources at Company X plays squash with the IT manager every other Friday at the YMCA and happens to have the phone number. Ten minutes later, Bob's on the phone with the manager.

The end result is productivity gains that Spoke officials say saves an enterprise using the software anywhere between 25-30 percent. Savings like that are crucial for software company to tout, in an economic environment where IT staffs are increasingly tightening their budgets on new software.

"Being able to offer a solid value proposition around sales productivity improvement by building something new is the kind of thing Silicon Valley is all about," said Ben Smith, Spoke CEO, in a statement Friday.

Currently, there are seven companies in closed testing of the social networking software, according to Tolles. A $9.2 million funding round earlier this year is expected to last Spoke until those companies become customers.