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8/6/2012
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NewsGator Prepares To Leapfrog SharePoint Social Streams

Microsoft is buying Yammer and upgrading social features in SharePoint 2013, but NewsGator continues to find room to make itself useful.

Questions About Microsoft's Acquisition of Yammer
Questions About Microsoft's Acquisition of Yammer
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Microsoft is buying Yammer, and getting ready to ship improved social software of its own in SharePoint 2013. But NewsGator is still running few steps ahead of that wave.

NewsGator is releasing NewsGator Social Sites 3.0 this week and plans to follow with a beta version targeting SharePoint 2013 in another week or so. Social Sites is an enterprise social networking product that runs on top of SharePoint and it's long been known for rounding out the relatively limited social networking capabilities Microsoft itself provides. Now, NewsGator is adjusting its strategy in reaction to Microsoft's pending acquisition of Yammer and social software advances in the forthcoming SharePoint 2013.

In the long run, NewsGator plans to shift its focus to providing more focused business applications, such as those for vertical industries, that run on top of the social software foundation. For now, there are still gaps in the foundation to shore up. SharePoint is finally ready to deliver a competitive activity stream, with tagging and @mentions and document previews. So NewsGator is moving on to offer an option called Lookout for managing multiple side-by-side feeds.

[ Look inward: Why McKinsey Values Social Economy At Up To $1.3 Trillion. ]

"Lookout lets users create their own views based on what's important to them," said Brian Kellner, executive vice president for development and product management. Selected feeds, which might be filtered to focus on specific topics of projects, can be placed side by side and arranged to match a user's preference.

The effect is somewhat like the user interface of a HootSuite or Tweetdeck social media monitoring tool. Kellner said he hears that comparison a lot, but that Lookout is actually more flexible. "You don't actually have to have all these side-by-side columns. You can resize or drag and drop to reorder them. You can detach one of these streams and put it on another monitor, if you have more than one. Or you can keep it really simple," he said.

Alan Lepofsky, a Constellation Research Group analyst who covers social software, said he likes that NewsGator continues to innovate with its activity stream and that the multi-feed interface is a nice addition. However, competitors like Jive, Tibbr, and Bottlenose are also "making some good advances" in their own user interfaces, he said via email.

Users will be able to set Lookout as their default start page for the application, as most NewsGator employees now do, but it won't be the only option, Kellner said.

Lookout is the most visible of the many refinements in this release. Another new feature, called SP Connector, makes it possible to follow feeds from multiple SharePoint instances. This can be used for collaboration with business partners or for synchronization between internal and external deployments--for example, connecting a website used for collaboration with customers with a NewsGator instance for internal collaboration. Another improvement, delivered in response to user requests, is the ability to tag any other user with an @mention rather than only those employees who are already contacts.


NewsGator Lookout offers side-by-side streams for those with a lot to track on the corporate social network.

NewsGator is also providing support for the Metro user interface look associated with Windows 8, which can be toggled on from a control panel. The same core Social Sites software will work with both SharePoint 2010 and the 2013 release expected to ship early next year, but NewsGator does plan to ship a few add-on components specifically for integration with new features in SharePoint 2013, Kellner said. The version for SharePoint 2013 will be released at the same time that Microsoft ships its product, he promised. Not that there's that much of a rush--based on past release cycles, NewsGator customers can be expected to wait six months to a year before implementing a new SharePoint release, he said.

Meanwhile, NewsGator plans to continue upgrading its product about four times a year, allowing it to keep pace with developments in the social software world much faster than Microsoft will in the core SharePoint platform. SharePoint also doesn't support the same degree of reporting on social activity that NewsGator does or the ability to place legal holds on accounts to prevent data from being deleted. SharePoint "doesn't do a lot of things we've learned to do to make legal and HR happy," Kellner said.

Meanwhile, NewsGator is planning to find a way to integrate with Yammer, now that it is becoming part of the Microsoft family, Kellner said. However, NewsGator's competitive positioning as a social software product for on-site deployment remains about the same as it always has been. "Our customers have typically looked at Yammer and decided it didn't work for them," Kellner said.

On the other hand, even customers who don't want a pure cloud solution like Yammer for all their needs might employ it for some part of their operations, particularly as Microsoft ties it more closely with Office365. NewsGator thinks it will be able to offer "the best SharePoint to Yammer integration possible" with an update that will be released this quarter, Kellner said.

Building on top of the Social Sites platform, NewsGator is expanding its family of add-on modules, with a new Spotlight social recognition app and expertise finder and Idea Stream, a brainstorming application, in addition to the Video Stream module it released last year. A social learning module to be called Enrich is also in the works, although NewsGator has not announced a release date.

Correction: this story has been updated to reflect that Social Sites 3.0 will be generally available this week (the story originally said that a beta version was being released). The compatibility features for SharePoint 2013 are being released in beta form, and NewsGator said they will be available when the new version of SharePoint ships.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and facebook.com/thebyard

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)

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