As my new book launches, I'd like to give a shout out to community.jivesoftware.com, Jive's network of enterprise community managers and strategists.
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By luck of timing, my Social Collaboration for Dummies book will be enjoying a launch party of sorts at this week's JiveWorld, the Jive Software user conference.
This is very appropriate because although the book is not specific to Jive, the company and its network of enterprise community managers and strategists played an important role in my research. When I was looking for tips on how to manage the common problems of growing communities, one of the best places to find answers was community.jivesoftware.com and particularly the Internal Community Managers group on that site. Although it exists partly as a customer support website, with some discussions that dig into specific configuration details for Jive's enterprise social networking software, the Jive Community site is also one of the most authoritative resources on the whole notion of social tools for business, period, because its members include many of the most experienced social business practitioners. These are the people who have been overseeing social communities long enough to offer practical advice on how to manage the proliferation of documents and groups, preventing an active collaboration tool from turning into a sprawling mess.
I will be at JiveWorld participating in a panel discussion and conducting onstage interviews with Jive customers Steelcase, Allstate and American Airlines. Assuming the logistics gods are with me and a shipment turns up at the Las Vegas conference hotel, I'll also be signing copies of my just-published Dummies book Wednesday night.
When the publishers at Wiley approached me, based on my social business reporting for InformationWeek, I took it as something of a sign of social collaboration entering the mainstream (a claim that has been made many times before) to the point that more people needed to understand the basic concepts, goals and requirements for a successful internal social community. I'm hoping even those who consider themselves past the Dummies phase will get a tip or two out of it and consider it as a teaching tool for other members of their organization.
At the same time, none of the social collaboration tools is such a market-dominating juggernaut that the world needed Jive for Dummies or Yammer for Dummies just yet. I still get regular pitches from startups who argue the established players are doing it wrong and the true revolution awaits those who sign up for their snazzy, new cloud products. In the section of the book where I deal with product selection, I tried to deal fairly with a reasonable cross section of the products worthy of your consideration.
Briefly, I'd say that if you want a comprehensive social platform as the centerpiece of your intranet, Jive would have to be at or near the top of your list, along with IBM Connections and a few others. Jive is also one of the proven big enterprise solutions, with an option for on-premises installation, as well as a cloud service that makes it more accessible to smaller businesses.
Conversely, the rap against it is that it's too much like enterprise software -- too expensive, too complicated, offering too many options and too confusing to users. Also, as enterprise software with an installed base, Jive doesn't always deliver the most up-to-date experience to the end user -- not because it doesn't want to, but because it must deal with enterprise IT intermediaries for everything except its cloud service. InformationWeek's publisher, UBM, is a Jive customer, but the version offered to employees has often lagged six months to a year or more behind the latest release because of a relatively traditional process for internal IT testing prior to the rollout of new software.
This is the argument in favor of Yammer, a cloud service (now owned by Microsoft) that offers a more streamlined Facebook-like experience. Yammer is available in a pretty usable free version, with a menu of inexpensive upgrades for businesses that try it and like it. When I discussed this argument for simplicity with Tracy Maurer, UBM's collaboration systems manager, she said she doesn't buy it. People may complain about the complexity, but that's the price of sophistication -- and our employees are always asking for more features, not fewer, she said. Consultants who work with Jive have also told me that one way to make the platform less overwhelming when it is first introduced is to turn off some features in the beginning, and then gradually activate them once users have learned the basics.
The fact that Jive's software supports public communities as well as internal ones is also a strength. The Jive Community site is Exhibit A. As part of some recent reporting on technologies for higher education, I've also written about university networks for students and prospective students. Jive also powers the SAP Community Network and a number of other online software support communities.
Jive's own online community.
You don't have to be a Jive customer to join the Jive Community, which makes it a good way of getting a feel for how the software works prior to becoming a customer -- or doing a little compare-and-contrast research on how things work in the Jive universe even if you've adopted another product.
When I was trying to do similar research on other user communities, I also got a peek at NewsGator's Engage community. Because it's normally accessible only to paying customers, NewsGator only allowed me access for a limited time and after getting me to agree to some ground rules on contacting its customers or quoting from conversations. Still, I saw enough to be impressed.
IBM directed me to check out the instance of IBM Connections available through Lotus Greenhouse, but that was more of a demo environment -- useful for exploring the workings of the software, but not as impressive as a community per se. (For a more vibrant community based on IBM Connections, see developerWorks.)
I appreciate the help I got from the Jive Community online and look forward to meeting more of its members in person.
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