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6/15/2012
01:40 PM
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Enterprise Social Networks Need Open Standards

True interoperability is the key to unlocking the potential of collaboration to make work more efficient.

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Somewhat less well known, but equally important in my opinion, are two other social standards which hold the promise of achieving all three major goals I listed above when it comes to connecting our social words together in a consistent and sustainable fashion. These are Open Graph and (in particular) OpenSocial.

For its part, Open Graph has been received considerable attention, partially because it was created at Facebook. What it does is simple: It enables any Web page to become a rich social object in the context of any social network that supports it. Actions can be assigned to such objects that then appear in a user's activity stream. Example: An inventory item on a Web page can be "shipped" to a customer, with the fact showing up in everyone's relevant social graph (a view of the current data in their social universe).

The standardized wrapper of Open Graph lets us accomplish the basics of what we want to achieve with open standards in a social enterprise. It enables a fundamental level of application integration in a social context between other parts of the Web and/or our intranets. Open Graph can possibly even provide a point of interchangeability, although admittedly that has yet to be fully validated.

However, to really connect our key "line of business" IT systems with our social workspaces, we need a way to accomplish actual work right in our activity streams. This means having the effective user experience of the underlying IT system take place right in the social network, with the associated live enterprise data visible in full social and conversational context. In fact, this combined visual and data integration is a sort of nirvana of social: Using it as the connective fabric between 1) all the ad hoc conversational work that takes place in isolated communication silos like e-mail, and 2) our systems of record, which are in an entirely different place. In other words, at last, using the current generation of social media, our structured and unstructured work would finally be unified in a single place, in full context of the relevant information and conversation.

This type of integration has proved increasingly useful in the consumer Web--thousands of apps integrate like this today--and it is now likely to be common in the enterprise. It's just one reason why I've said the next app you use just might be within a social network.

What now seems well-positioned to accomplish this unified vision is another standard that's been hanging around the social scene for years now, namely OpenSocial. The latest version, which I explored in detail last year, is designed for enterprise needs and takes things to a whole new level when it comes to integration between our social and non-social worlds of IT. It also goes an important step beyond Open Graph, which only adds social decoration to existing apps and describes after-the-fact actions. Instead, OpenSocial enables full application functionality, right in a user's activity stream.

The current version of OpenSocial (there are two new versions in development) has powerful features designed especially for this integrated work vision. It does this by making possible the ready incorporation of traditional software applications directly inside a social network that supports the OpenSocial standard. This includes an important capability called embedded user experiences. This makes it possible for a user to seamlessly interact with another IT application directly from the social network, as if the user was interacting with the underlying service directly. Importantly, given the shift to tablets, OpenSocial is also smart about mobile devices and, critically, understands the vital role of search: You can search your social activity stream and relevant information within an OpenSocial application will be found as well.

Visualizing The Future Focus Of Work

In my travels around the world however, I still see limited interest in such integration between the social and non-social parts of IT. This is despite the high demand for integration between our IT systems, the increasingly close integration of social/non-social in the consumer world, and the fact that workers are spending more and more time in social environments in general. Although software architects often see the promise of this more clearly than others--and I've certainly encountered them attempting to use OpenSocial to create connections between their IT systems for their users--there's simply more focus right now in most organizations on just getting basic social networks in place. In other words, onboarding a company's IT systems into the activity streams of their workers often becomes phase two or three in a social business implementation.

[ Related: OpenSocial 2.0 Spec Stresses Social Media Interoperability.]

Unfortunately, ignoring close integration between applications and social networks, which is now such a vibrant and successful part of the consumer Web, is a serious omission in my opinion. I've personally witnessed the outcomes of not addressing this. One outcome is that users can't use social networks to get beyond basic conversation and effectively collaborate on corporate information to get work done. Second, to overcome this, users then resort to copying-and-pasting data or attaching copies of corporate information into social networks so they can work on it. This creates data duplication and master data issues that are ultimately quite pernicious. The systems of record no longer match what's in the systems of engagement, yet the much more visible and findable data in the latter often becomes the default. Yes, this happens with e-mail too, but it's not as prominent because it's more siloed.

Thus, enabling employees to get their work done within activity streams with live applications and surrounded by conversational context resolves these issues and greatly increases the operational value of social software: Employees can get their jobs done right inside the social network, across IT applications, all while weaving together collaborative work narratives that show all the related information, unstructured and structured alike, in a single place that's searchable, participative, and reusable.

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Leo Regulus
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Leo Regulus,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/21/2012 | 5:20:49 PM
re: Enterprise Social Networks Need Open Standards
If you are going to run multiple-page articles, (IMHO) you really, really need to have a 'single-page' read option. Most e-mags do this with the"Print" option. Your "Print" option goes straight to the printer only. Even a (PITA) .pdf option would be better than multiple pages.

Thank you for listening.
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