Social Software: "Made By BEA"
At the O'Reilly eTech conference (March 27), BEA introduced a collection of social computing products under the "Web 2.0" banner. BEA also revealed a new web site, en.terpri.se and a supporting blog. The product is expected to become available in mid-2007.
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From what I've seen so far, BEA appears to have done its homework to design these products with an enterprise environment in mind (e.g., security, integration). There are some dependencies on AquaLogic infrastructure that will cause some people to hesitate - especially if they have already made a non-BEA portal investment. I expect BEA to move fast to "black box" these underlying services and eventually release versions that will work with other infrastructure services. That would enable BEA to target existing customers as well as new customers who are just interesting in an enterprise-grade platform for social computing. So overall, Pages and Pathways should be credible solutions that IT groups should include as they compare/contrast market offerings from other providers. The initial release is likely to be relevant only to BEA customers until some future version (without dependencies on other BEA products) is available that will make Pages and Pathways attractive to a broader market.
BEA is not considered a major collaboration vendor. It does however have DNA in the space based on its acquisition of Plumtree. Plumtree, while known primarily for its portal product, also offered the Plumtree Collaboration Server which did offer workspaces and discussion forms. While Plumtree also was not a strong collaboration player overall, it was not uncommon to find Collaboration Server deployed as an extension to the portal investment. So, while there are some roots here for BEA to point to and attempt to leverage, the brand perception of BEA as a middleware vendor will remain the biggest obstacle for it to overcome as it moves into the social computing space.
This move puts BEA in direct competition with other large platform vendors such as IBM (Lotus Connections), Microsoft (SharePoint Products & Technologies which supports user profiles, blogs, wikis and social search, Knowledge Network which provides deeper support for expertise and social networking) and Oracle (WebCenter).
There are also smaller vendors that are credible alternatives for users to consider when investigating options for social software. Quite often these providers exceed the basic functionality being delivered by traditional enterprise software providers: Atlassian, ConnectBeam Jive Software, and Traction Software are a few examples of innovative companies.
"AquaLogic Pages" is a platform that allows end-users to create blogs and wikis. Drag-and-drop from a palette of widgets to back-ends enables users to mash-up data in addition to their own content contributions. DataSpaces is the component for working with structured data sets while LiveSpaces is the component to actually take collections of pages and assemble them into a web application. Templates support both a blog and wiki layout style. The product was formerly code-named "Builder". The BEA web site for Pages can be found here. A white paper on the product can be found here.
The screen shot below shows an AquaLogic Pages application used to assign sales people to a prospect. The prospect’s location and the location of sales people are displayed in the Google map and updated dynamically depending on which sales person is selected by the user.
"AquaLogic Pathways" is a platform for what BEA defines as "collaborative information and expertise discovery". This product focuses more on tagging, social bookmarks, tag clouds, search and social networking. Connectors to back-end systems such as Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes and ECM systems (e.g., Open Text) are available. The platform also includes a ranking system called ActivityRank that examines explicit and implicit usage and usage patterns to score items. The system can be leveraged for expertise location as well. The product was formerly code-named "Graffiti". The BEA web site for Pathways can be found here. A supporting white paper on the product can be found here.
The screen shot below shows AquaLogic Pathways with a tag cloud and ability to search for documents or experts.