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Socialtext Takes On Twitter, Talks About Social Networking For Your Business

Socialtext this morning announced Socialtext 3.0, which adds Socialtext People user profiles and directories and a Socialtext Dashboard homepage, as well as interface and other upgrades to its Socialtext Workspace business wiki. Most notably, though, it adds Socialtext Signals, a Twitter-style microblogging application for business. In connection with the new products, I got the chance to talk with Socialtext chairman and president Ross Mayfield about how social networking and microblogging fit
Socialtext this morning announced Socialtext 3.0, which adds Socialtext People user profiles and directories and a Socialtext Dashboard homepage, as well as interface and other upgrades to its Socialtext Workspace business wiki. Most notably, though, it adds Socialtext Signals, a Twitter-style microblogging application for business. In connection with the new products, I got the chance to talk with Socialtext chairman and president Ross Mayfield about how social networking and microblogging fit in with smaller companies.You can read Mayfield's explanation of SocialText 3.0 and Signals on the Socialtext site, and the announcement was covered by Rafe Needleman on CNET among other places.

But frankly, I was more interested in getting Mayfield to share his insights into how small and midsized companies use social networking differently from large enterprises. "The smaller the company, the more it works with people who don't work there," he replied. That creates a need for "extranet-style collaboration," which includes partners, suppliers, and even customers.

"People think that the reason for travel is meetings," Mayfield explained. But "the real reason for travel is getting things done" and that's where social networking can help. 30% of e-mail is "corporate spam" (bcc:s, replies to all, etc.), he said, claiming that putting that kind of material on a corporate wiki can dramatically cut corporate e-mail volume.

(For what it's worth, I'm still not convinced about wikis. In my experience, sticking info on a corporate blog or wiki does slash the e-mail "spam," but it also reduces readership of that information. Don't tell anyone, but when several internal TechWeb e-mail announcements recently became blogs, I simply stopped reading them. Mayfield said that to ensure continued readership, companies need to make the information on wikis important enough and posted consistently enough so that people go to look at it regularly. But maybe the idea is that reading all that corporate mumbo-jumbo really is a waste of time, but with a wiki at least it's there for reference if anyone ever needs it.)

Anyway, back to today's news. The value of corporate microblogging, Mayfield said, is that you can ask questions from a wide variety of people without forcing interruptions on them. He called it a "tool to get questions and answers without expensive interruptions. "Making people visible to each other is a very big deal," Mayfield said, not just who they are, but what they're working on. And while smaller groups may be naturally more connected, microblogging is another area where it makes sense to for growing companies to extend the community from the intranet to the extranet,

Finally, Mayfield said, many smaller companies are stuck with aging intranets, so he promoted Socialtext Dashboard as a way to instantly modernize those intranets with a personalized, customizable interface.

Referencing an earlier SMB-related announcement, Mayfield also predicted that Social Networking Appliances will become widespread in the coming year. No, he doesn't mean a refrigerator that shares your food with your friends. Mayfield is talking about hardware that comes preconfigured with a software stack as a single purchase. He likens it to putting SaaS behind your company's firewall -- or building a cloud within your company. That's especially true because the vendor maintains the appliance and you still pay for it with via a subscription model, rather than buying the hardware outright (prices for the Social Starter Appliance start at less than $5,000 for 100 users for 90 days).

The advantage of this "evolution" from SaaS, Mayfield says, is that "SMBs don't have the IT resources to do it all themselves, but they don't want to put their data on someone else's server." The reality is that there are always security issues, he adds, but at least when it's behind the company firewall, you can manage it yourself. And you can more easily integrate with your company's infrastructure: using single sign on, for example.

Maybe so, but I also got Mayfield to acknowledge that, "A large part of the market is perfectly happy with SaaS offerings -- even free offerings." And that the cloud-oriented segment is growing, especially for smaller users.

Full disclosure: bMighty's parent company United Business Media is working on a corporate license with Socialtext.