Jive Software is buying Proximal Labs, a startup that has been in business for less than a year but includes a team of big-data heavy hitters and military-grade social analytics smarts. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Jive has already begun incorporating Proximal Labs technology into the recommendation engine that will be included in its next enterprise social media release, but "we are just scratching the surface" of the potential, said Brian Roddy, senior VP of engineering at Jive. The goal is to use artificial intelligence techniques to analyze the "social graph"--the patterns in how people interact with each other, as captured by a social network--and connect the right people to the right data at the right time. This is also about identifying expertise within the organization and connecting the right people to each other, he said.
"Right now, organizations rely on tribal knowledge to make that happen," Roddy said. While the Web has produced many recommendations for consumer products, making recommendations based on enterprise data is a different class of problem and Jive looked at "close to 50 companies" before settling on Proximal as the best company to solve it, he said. Proximal's technology can also be used to improve analysis for internal enterprise social networks, as well as Jive's social media monitoring capabilities.
David Gutelius, Proximal's CEO, will take the title of chief social scientist at Jive. In addition to proving himself in the world of technology, he has a background in social sciences and holds a PhD in economic history from Johns Hopkins University. Gutelius previously served as CTO of Social Kenetics, an SRI International spinoff, purchased by RedBrick Health in October, focused on applying the technology to healthcare. Proximal Labs was just getting started when Social Kenetics was sold, but had already pulled together a team that included core members of the Apache Hadoop project for analyzing very large data sets. The company's initial product was the Proximal Core service, which pulls in the "Twitter fire hose" (a feed of all the public data posted to Twitter every day) along with another massive data set, the blog and news feed service from Spinn3r.
From that data, Proximal produced "a detailed understanding what a particular user of Twitter was involved in, was interested in, and their relationships to the people they might follow or might meet," Gutelius said. The concept of creating a "cognitive prosthetic" to help humans deal with overwhelming volumes of information comes from a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) project he contributed to while at SRI called the Personalized Assistant That Learns, or PAL. The part of the project he worked on analyzed the social network between Army officers to identify relationships and centers of expertise.
When the technology was applied to operational networks in Iraq, "we were told it pushed the needle in terms of saving lives," Gutelius said. "In 2005 and 2006, the enemy had come up with a brand new set of techniques for employing IEDs [improvised explosive devices], and our guys were having a hard time keeping up with the pace of innovation. We saw a lot of questions coming through around this topic, frantically asking who knows what about this." Through analysis of those conversations, his team "was able to surface the right person with the right information around this," he said, and "literally put the right people in the right virtual team at the right time." One of those officers, after being pulled in from a forward operating base, went on to lead an Army center of excellence focused on combating IEDs.
Now, Jive wants to apply the same techniques the military used to save lives to help companies save money, make money, and innovate through social analytics.
"The good news is we have got all this social conversation and dialog going," Jive CEO Tony Zingale said, so the next step is to make better recommendations based upon it to connect users with the coworkers, customers, partners, and data that can help them achieve their goals. "There is a natural evolution taking place here."
"I do think this is a very good direction for Jive to go in," Erin K. Traudt, IDC's research director for enterprise collaboration and social services. As the enterprise social networking market becomes more competitive, Jive's competitors are also focusing on analytics as a key feature they will need to distinguish themselves.
Recently, Jive was positioned just behind Socialtext as the top companies in Information Week's IT Pro Ranking for Enterprise 2.0 vendors.