RealTime IT News

The Next Step in Enterprise Social Networking?

PALO ALTO, Calif. – Enterprise collaboration tools provider Socialtext said it is upping the ante in the competition for corporate customers with today's release of Socialtext 3.0.

The trio of applications in Socialtext 3.0 are People, Dashboard and a major upgrade of the company's Workspace enterprise Wiki. Company co-founder and chairman Ross Mayfield showed off the new version in a briefing with InternetNews.com. He also previewed Socialtext Signals, a Twitter-like micro-blogging tool designed for the enterprise. Signals is going into a private beta test phase this week, according to Mayfield.

"We're putting social networking to work," Mayfield said. This isn't about games and [asking], "Are you a friend, Yes or No?'. This is about faster discovery of expertise within the enterprise."

The release of Socialtext 3.0, which was announced in April, comes as a new generation of users — weened on consumer-oriented social networking services such as MySpace and Facebook— expect some of those same collaborative services where they work.

Socialtext People is designed to enabled a detailed user directory built to give enterprise employees an easy way to provide information about themselves and make their expertise easily accessible to others. You can also subscribe to specific colleagues to get regular updates of their activities.

Dashboard provides customizable view of online conversations and various social network activities. An alert feed shows progress on relevant projects. Mayfield compares it to Google's customizable home page, iGoogle, but for enterprise users. You can aggregate all your information in one place using a widget-based, drag-and-drop dashboard and manage your attention across Socialtext, other enterprise systems and the Web itself," he said.

Workspace, an enterprise wiki designed to facilitate collaboration, is Socialtext's flagship product. The upgraded Workspace sports what the company said is significant usability improvements and tight integration to Dashboard and People.

A Wiki for the Enterprise

Mayfield said Workspace is different than consumer wikis such as the popular Wikipedia. "Wikis typically suppress the identify of users and that's a good thing when you want to give what's posted equal weight," he said. "But in the enterprise, who says something may matter more than what is said."

Socialtext's People is designed to offer ready access to that background information. Authors' names, for example, are hyperlinked back to their bio and other information about them.

Signals, the forthcoming micro-blogging tool, is designed to integrate with the rest of the Socialtext platform, giving context for what users are "signaling" or messaging, and why.

"The widget-based Dashboard is something sales reps would like, because they want to get their information in as few clicks as possible," Aberdeen Group analyst Alex Jefferies, told InternetNews.com.

He said the key for any so-called Enteprise 2.0 or social networking provider looking to gain business customers is adoption. "It has to be integrated with people's work routines," Jefferies said. "Anyone buying in has to first consider what they're trying to achieve and make sure the workflow is in place to customize the system properly. He credits Socialtext for offering permissions, role-based access to information and other regulations that may not be necessary for a consumer service but are crucial in the enterprise.

Jefferies said he thinks Signals could prove a popular service once it's available commercially, though he said it will face competition from companies such as Socialcast, which already offer some form of micro-blogging designed for the enterprise. Jefferies said a recent Aberdeen Group survey of sales and marketing professionals revealed that 86 percent use e-mail as their primary source of collaboration.

"Think about all the information that gets lost in the shuffle, that a simpler, more immediate tool like Signals could streamline," Jefferies said. "Anything that reduces reliance on e-mail has a chance."

A free, 30-day trial version of the Socialtext 3.0 is available at Socialtext.com.