Forrester Names 4 Leading Enterprise Social Platforms

Check out the early leaders in the race for best internal social communication tools.
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Forrester Research named IBM, Jive Software, Telligent, and NewsGator as the leaders in its first ranking of enterprise social software platforms.

Jive Software, which this week filed for an initial public offering, got the highest overall score. However, the lead author, Forrester analyst Rob Koplowitz, said it's not a straight ranking but called it a "measurement of breadth of capabilities." The catch is that features considered essential to one enterprise can be irrelevant to another, he said.

On the other hand, of the 26 capabilities ranked, Jive got a top score on some that are important to many organizations, such as security and cross-platform support, as well as core functionality.

"To me, the story here is IBM, not Jive," Koplowitz said. IBM Connections ranked high across the board and beats Jive in some areas, such as localization into many languages.

"In this type of emerging market, where we're just starting to see leaders emerge, a company like IBM you might assume would be a laggard," Koplowitz said. Big enterprise software vendors often fall behind because while they are busy polishing their products and marketing plans, startup competitors have put out a dozen new releases, he said. "IBM deserves kudus for just how aggressively they've brought this product to market--they brought it out early, they continue to invest very heavily in it, and they've been very entrepreneurial."

The product was originally branded Lotus Connections, which probably hobbled it because some potential customers who weren't Lotus shops crossed it off the list. IBM has now made it clearer that, although it can offer integration with products from Lotus and Cognos and other IBM brands, its enterprise social software platform stands on its own.

This report specifically looked at social media environments supporting a company's internal users and other authenticated users such as business partners. Jive and Telligent offer an extra dimension because their platforms actually encompass both internal and external social media--both Jive and Telligent started out supporting customer communities and discussion forums, adding applications for internal enterprise collaboration later.

Koplowitz said his analysis gave some weight, but not a lot, to the idea that a social platform that works both internally and externally might be better overall. In principle, one advantage might be that sales leads or crowdsourced product ideas from the outside would flow more smoothly into a discussion inside the company, he said, "but that's still a little bit aspirational for most companies." Instead, where this weighs as an advantage for those companies is primarily in awareness.

"I get a lot of inquiries from people saying, we own Jive, or we own Telligent, and we have it deployed into a marketing community, so why wouldn't I want to do that internally as well," Koplowitz said.

Telligent is not as well known as some other competitors in the space, and Koplowitz said he didn't expect it to emerge as one of the leaders until he added up all the scores. "Telligent is quite a bit smaller than IBM and a little bit smaller than Jive, but they've done a good job of taking the investment they've made in the external platform to make it relevant in the internal. An example is their analytics, which is something that is essential in the external environment and is an emerging requirement in internal environments," he said.

Fourth among the leaders is NewsGator, a small company that has made its way to the top by standing on the shoulders of Microsoft SharePoint. "Everything SharePoint does is complemented by NewsGator," Koplowitz said. Running on as an application on top of SharePoint, NewsGator takes advantage of SharePoint features like document management and wikis but then fills in the gaps to turn SharePoint into a full-featured social environment. For example, NewsGator takes the basic notifications feature in SharePoint and fleshes it out into an activity stream where users see messages from their friends and contacts.

"This is a partner play, so that comes with its own challenges," Koplowitz said. If Microsoft should get more aggressive about developing SharePoint into a self-sufficient social platform, NewsGator could have more trouble staying ahead of the game.

The Forrester Wave report also covered Atlassian, Microsoft, Socialtext, Cisco (Cisco Quad), and OpenText (Social Workspace), but excluded a few likely suspects such as Yammer and Socialcast (recently acquired by VMware) as "focused products" rather than broad platforms.

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