Making sense of the endless options for enterprise social networking

The BrainYard - Where collaborative minds congregate.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

June 10, 2008

6 Min Read

I went down to the demo floor at Enterprise 2.0 to talk with some of the Enterprise 2.0 providers. Many of the companies offer very similar services in internal company knowledge management and social networking. My head started spinning as I looked at them all. My question for most of them was, "What makes you different from the booth right next to you?" Some were highly differentiated and others not so much. I didn't get a chance to talk to everyone, so if you're reading this post, and were on the floor, please add your explanation as to why your knowledge management/social networking tool is different/more useful than the competition. Also, if I didn't describe your differentiation correctly, please make additions in the comment field. I may keep adding to this post over the next day.First, a summary of what many players in the enterprise social networking space are trying to do. Unless otherwise noted, they're all SaaS (Software as a Service), they're all offering a variety of Web 2.0 tools (e.g. discussion groups, podcasts, video sharing, image sharing, blogs), they're flexible, and they connect your employees helping them find each other and each other's knowledge. I don't know the answer as to which is best, but here's some differentiating factors I unearthed from the players I spoke to on the demo show floor at Enterprise 2.0.Socialcast - This application incorporates many of the newest tools being used by consumers and gamers. Specifically, it has Digg-like voting and reputation ratings depending on participation and others' interest in your participation. Two very successful customers for them are retail outlets, Guitar Center and Hot Topic, that have had a difficult time managing its 10,000+ employees at hundreds of disparate retail outlets. Management now has a tool to watch staff and see ideas within the company as they trend over time. Tool is 100% internal. No way right now to publish any of the content to the public Web.Awareness - Offers a mix of internal/external enterprise social networking. They power social networks for Boston.com and McDonald's.com.Igloo Software - Some of their customers call them "Sharepoint lite." That's probably because you can truly launch a company social network through its wizard in about two minutes. Also because the company's software is fully built on Microsoft's technology. RIM is a huge investor, and Igloo plans on having a BlackBerry client by the end of this year.Mzinga - Company swallowed SharedInsights and they claim to have the most employees (150+) of all their competitors. They host 14,000 communities in 13 different languages and they have employees around the world that moderate them 24/7.Trampoline Systems - Not SaaS. Software sits on your server behind a firewall. The software tries to answer the question you often hear in the office, "Who do we work with that knows about such and such?" But it does that without you having to manage a social network. Instead, it tracks what you're talking about, such as reading your emails, articles you write, etc. With that information, in creates tags (autotags) to identify your area of expertise. You can also manually create tags and identify your own expertise.Connectbeam - Not Saas. Software sits on your server behind a firewall. It merges public search with company search. Do a Google search and you'll see Google results, but also on the left (blocking the Google Ads, I'm sure Google loves that) is Connectbeam's search of knowledge within your company. That parallel search shows a company-generated list of tags, users, and bookmarks related to your Google search. The point is to work within your existing search behavior, Google, but also alerting you to the fact that there is knowledge within your organization.Small World Labs - White labeled social networking that differentiates themselves by doing lots of configuring with their clients. Much of their product cost is in the configuration, design, and management of the internal or external social network.Adenin Technologies - Offer both a firewalled and SaaS model. It's designed to be a company intranet with its most impressive features as true document management and structureless Google-like search across company documents that you can import by spidering employee hard drives. One cool benefit is when you search for documents, you can see which employee wrote the most documents based on your search.Headmix - Tries to put an end to occupational spam. Those are the emails that are the result of you getting caught on threads for which twenty people are copied. Headmix calls itself a combination between Yahoo! Answers and Twitter for the enterprise. The company's CEO actually used to work at Yahoo! Answers. Headmix is a SaaS tool for you to pose and answer questions. But you're only following the questions and answers of people and groups you're interested in. To stay in the know, and be alerted to all questions and answers within your Headmix inbox, Headmix has an Outlook plugin that operates like Twhirl, the Twitter application, that pops up messages on your desktop, but lets you still operate in the Outlook environment.NewsGator's Social Sites - Just released a new firewalled service, Social Sites which is social networking for Sharepoint. It's huge advantage is it doesn't look like Sharepoint (management loves that), it maintains the security settings of Sharepoint (IT loves that), and you can see your relationships to people with like minded interests. Currently though it gathers that information WITHOUT looking into employee created documents.InQuira - Firewalled knowledge management tool for call centers. Its big differentiator is Apple is a client.GROUPSwim - Looks most like Connectbeam in terms of how it tags people and lets you save bookmarks, but it's also a complete collaboration platform as well. It though doesn't integrate with standard general search like Connectbeam.Spaceo.us - Uses a standardized framework to allow you to drag in information from multiple sources that you're already using. Like pulling in a series of RSS feeds, but it's widget based to create a front end for all your information, say from Seybold and Salesforce.com. What makes it different is that you can than connect these "spaces" to users so they can receive information from that space, and get alerts when anything changes.Sun Microsystems' Project SocialSite - Using OpenSocial, add social networking to existing Web applications and apply to your social graph. It appears all that social networking lives in programmable widgets. The way it looks, it's not an end in itself but rather take advantage of the widgets to quickly incorporate in whatever site you currently have.Veodia - Agile video platform to use in your every day business communications and collaboration. They've got an endless list of competitors. Most notable are TokBox, OoVoo, and Sightspeed.Box - File sharing and management tool. A virtual file locker where you can access files from wherever you have a Web connection. Box has tons of competitors in this space, one of the newest being Drop.io. But beyond just file sharing, Box has an OpenBox platform for integration with other Web applications. Files can easily be sent, posted, or viewed via other applications like Picnik, eFax, WordPress, Twitter, NetVibes, iGoogle, and 19 other partners.Make sure you check out the summary of all coverage from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2008 in Boston.

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