Social Networking: A Time Waster Or The Next Big Thing In Collaboration? - InformationWeek

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Social Networking: A Time Waster Or The Next Big Thing In Collaboration?

Facebook and other social networks in the workplace can suck up employees' time and worse. But managed right, they may be the next breakthrough in business collaboration.

Motorola is expanding its internal Web 2.0 social media platform to include social networking functionality. The system already supports thousands of internal wikis and blogs, and a social bookmarking initiative is under way, too. The social networking layer, which has its origins in a Sun Microsystems federated enterprise directory, will let employees create profiles and let people see what information fellow employees have authored and tagged. "Social networking improves the quality and the cycle time of the collaboration inside the company," says Toby Redshaw, the Motorola VP overseeing the project.

Major software companies are jumping into social networking. In Microsoft's SharePoint Server 2007, MySite profiles show users' biographies, Active Directory information, shared links, contact information, job responsibilities, professional interests, educational background, blog posts, and shared documents. An "In Common With You" feature shows characteristics that employees share. Microsoft says it has 300,000 internal blogs and wikis.

From informal Facebook to business-focused SelectMinds
Blogs, document management, profiles, search are among the options
It's no more dangerous than e-mail
Keep employees on task, not chatting about Britney's latest faux pas
Anywhere from free to tens of thousands of dollars in set-up and licensing fees
IBM released social networking software in June, called IBM Lotus Connections, that includes user profiles, blogs, social bookmarking, and the ability to create communities of employees around interests and work-related tasks. The Federal Aviation Administration is using a feature called Activities for disaster preparedness. In the event of an emergency, the agency would be able to channel RSS feeds from internal blogs, relevant documents, and plans into an Activities page for everyone to see and discuss.

IBM says social networks shouldn't be disruptive. Other applications--e-mail, instant messaging, Microsoft Office, Web portals--are already the center of gravity for many professionals. "When we were talking with people, we heard time and again they didn't want to have yet another place to go," says IBM marketing manager Chris Lamb.

With that in mind, IBM Lotus Connections supports information exchange with Web services via REST, a technique for communicating XML information, and Atom, a syndication format similar to RSS. IBM has portlets for viewing profile and community information in WebSphere Portal, a plug-in to create communities dedicated to specific tasks, a version of Connections that runs on BlackBerrys, and a plug-in for Lotus Notes to run Connections in a sidebar. Additional plug-ins for Office and Outlook are on the way, and IBM is in discussions with SAP and other application vendors.

Companies must decide whether to take the build-it-yourself approach or simply hitch on to social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Private networks offer greater control and protection, while the Web approach makes it possible to reach more people. Weigh the decision carefully, then communicate it clearly. During a Web 2.0 session at last week's InformationWeek 500 conference in Tucson, Ariz., speakers warned that employees won't want to keep active profiles in two places.

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