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Enterprise Needs Social Software Standards, IBM Says

Next week's IBM-sponsored W3C Social Business Jam will seek Enterprise 2.0 progress.

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IBM believes social software needs to do more to adopt, promote, and enhance standards for enterprise collaboration and is sponsoring a World Wide Web Consortium event to promote the state of the art.

The W3C Social Business Jam will be held as a series of online meetings conducted over the course of three days, Nov. 8-10. Kevin Cavanaugh, vice president for business and technology strategy with IBM Collaboration Solutions, said standards are important for what IBM sees as the basic elements of enterprise social networking: reaching people, engaging with people, allowing people to interact and discover information about interactions, and enabling employees to act on the information they get through social media.

"To reach people, we need to be going out on a variety of social networks, not just one, so we can reach people wherever they may be," Cavanaugh said. That's more important in business social networking "than in an advertising play where you'd like to keep people within your network."

An enterprise social network also needs to be integrated into business applications so that when employees see an alert they need to act on, they can do so right away. "Enterprises aren't interested in helping people socialize; they're interested in doing business," Cavanaugh said.

Standards such as OpenSocial, OAuth, and Activity Streams are a good start, Cavanaugh said.

OpenSocial is a specification for social media server software "containers" and user interface "gadgets" that can be embedded in those containers. IBM was actively involved in the development of OpenSocial 2.0 and making sure it addressed enterprise requirements, Cavanaugh said. That update to the specification should be reflected in products such as IBM Connections and Lotus Domino next year. "We're hoping 2012 will be a big year for OpenSocial," he said.

Other enterprise social networking vendors such as Jive Software also embrace OpenSocial, potentially making it a good foundation for enterprise integration. On the public Web, OpenSocial has been overshadowed by the de facto standards set by the Facebook platform for embedding applications and games. Still, several other public social networks support OpenSocial gadgets. "It's attractive to us as a business standard partly because it has a consumer face to it," Cavanaugh said. "That crossover adds momentum for the developer community, which is always a good thing."

IBM also sponsored the creation of an OpenSocial MIME type as part of the embedded experiences for the standard. That means OpenSocial gadgets can be embedded in email messages as well as activity streams, provided that the email client recognizes that multimedia extension.

[Confused about the differences between using social media to reach customers and using it in everyday business practices? See The Social Business And The Social Brand.]

Embedded experiences help make social communications "directly actionable," Cavanaugh said. "When you ask people to change context in a business process, they tend to make mistakes and lose the thread of the business process."

Meanwhile, IBM has been working with partners like SAP to prove the interoperability of their respective Activity Streams implementations, Cavanaugh said.

The discovery aspect of enterprise social networking is one of the areas where there are few formal standards so far, Cavanaugh said. Instead, there are a number of commonly used technologies, like Apache Hadoop as a tool for big data analytics, he said. "In practical terms, there are going to be a lot of de facto standards for a while," he said, but IBM is still interested in "making the work we do around big data sharable across the industry."

IBM hopes that next week's Social Business Jam can serve as a brainstorming session for better ways of doing business, Cavanaugh said. "In the short term, the lack of standardization opens up a business opportunity for us," because IBM can win business by showing how it can overcome the integration challenges, he said. "Over time, there may be reasonable discussions about ways those processes can be simplified."

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

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