The leaders among enterprise activity streams products, according to Forrester, are Yammer, Saleforce.com's Chatter, and Tibco's Tibbr. Socialcast, now the flagship of VMware's social software division, and Neudesic Pulse were also recognized as "strong performers."
Forrester's last sweeping report on social software focused on enterprise social platforms, with IBM, Jive Software, Telligent, and NewsGator named as the leading vendors.
Forrester analyst Rob Koplowitz, the lead author on both reports, said he came up with the classification of social platforms versus enterprise activity streams as a way of grouping the products he saw as most directly comparable to each other. Enterprise organizations also tend to "self select" one category or the other to evaluate, depending on whether they are looking for a broad platform or a more focused social activity stream product.
An activity stream is a social news feed that, in some implementations, also includes automated posts from applications, and it's one of the defining characteristics of any social collaboration experience. Riffing off successful user interface metaphors from Facebook, Twitter, and other consumer tools, an enterprise activity stream uses similar methods for sharing and discussion, while adding features, like file sharing, not generally found in the consumer world.
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Enterprise activity stream products focus relatively narrowly on the feed. They also provide integration with other applications, where the feed becomes a social layer that enhances other application experiences. The products Forrester classifies as enterprise social platforms provide activity streams, too, but as part of a broader package that also includes blogs, wikis, and more portal-like functionality.
The distinction is not necessarily a neat one, since social software companies have been redefining their product offerings at a rapid pace, Koplowitz said. Forrester's division puts Jive and Yammer in different categories, even though they often act like direct competitors. Yammer started out tightly focused on Twitter-like microblogging for the enterprise, but it has broadened its offering with the addition of document management and Web document editing tools, which means it's turning itself into more of a platform player, Koplowitz said.
Still, partly as a consequence of its freemium business model, Yammer keeps those platform elements relatively streamlined. "In order to accelerate viral adoption, Yammer places a huge premium on a simple, intuitive user experience," the report noted.
Socialcast also shows signs of developing into more of a platform, adding modules like its Strides social project management tool.
Meanwhile, Salesforce.com is charging full speed ahead into social business. "Any question about its commitment to the market was erased at Dreamforce '11, which made social business the center of the company's messaging, elevated even above CRM. The proof is also in a customer base in which numerous Chatter implementations have broken out of the core CRM user base and gone enterprisewide," according to the Forrester report. Still, Chatter is of particular interest to organizations that have made a commitment to Salesforce.com and the Force.com platform for cloud computing.
Of Forrester's top three activity streams, Yammer and Chatter are available only as cloud products, while Tibbr and the others offer both cloud and on-premises options.
Although Tibbr has gotten less press, Forrester ranks it neck-and-neck with Yammer and Chatter on functionality and strategy, even though its market penetration is much smaller. Created by Tibco, a company better known for back-end middleware than tools for knowledge workers, Tibbr is an attractive and usable product that just happens to benefit from the company's integration technology strengths, Koplowitz said. "They are in a unique position to bring data in as a first-class citizen in the activity stream. That's an interesting place for Tibco to continue to play."
Integration is important to the vision in which not only do activity streams get feeds from other applications, but activity streams can also be embedded in applications to give them more social context, Koplowitz said.
The margin between the "leaders" and the "strong performers" in Forrester's analysis is narrow enough that buyers should probably focus more on how the products line up with the specific requirements of their organizations.
Neudesic Pulse could be the right answer, particularly for organizations with heavy investments in SharePoint and other Microsoft technologies, such as Lync and Dynamics, Koplowitz said. "They have a product that's highly integrated but separate from Microsoft," implemented on Windows technologies, he said. "They have an approach that's similar to Tibco's in being agnostic about the backend but providing a lot of good things for integration to the backend."
Neudesic has a different approach to the Microsoft platform than NewsGator Social Sites, which is actually delivered as an application that runs on SharePoint, adding social features not present in the base platform. Neudesic Pulse is instead an independent application that adds a "social layer" in the form of an activity stream to Microsoft products and other products. It's well-integrated with SharePoint, but not dependent on it.
Having run a longtime practice as a consulting firm specializing in the Microsoft platform, Neudesic has a strong understanding of the Microsoft customer base and its requirements, Koplowitz said. "They probably have the deepest relationship with the Microsoft clients that are making these decisions."
The social software market remains very volatile, and the lines between categories keep shifting, Koplowitz said. In next year's evaluations, Yammer might shift into the enterprise social platforms category alongside products like Jive, he said--but where it will rank in comparison, he would not hazard a guess.
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