Are Twitter and Facebook lacking because they don't offer a complement of collaborative tools including threaded replies, RSS feeds, photo and file sharing? Have other microblogging platforms found a chink in their armor? Is 'enterprise microblogging' the next step in the evolutionary process of social networking? Yes, it appears that several new collaboration suites have emerged to fill this void...and in advance of Google Wave's scheduled debut in the Fall.Yammer promotes itself as "a tool for allowing companies and organizations to become more productive through the exchange of short frequent messages. But instead of replying to the standard Twitter question "what are you doing?", you will now be 'yammering about "What are you working on?'"
Yammer, Socialcast, Rypple, Obayoo, Cubetree, Socialtext, CentralDesktop, Laconi.ca, Joint Contact and HeadMix are my Top Ten picks, as they are all jockeying for position to become the dominant player in the enterprise microblogging space. All offer services that allows companies to collaborate and share information and communications within their organizations. Their individual distinctive differences is what will give them their competitive edge.
As employees answer that question, a feed is created in one central location enabling co-workers to discuss ideas, post news, ask questions, and share links and other information. Yammer also serves as a company directory in which every employee has a profile and are allowed to access a knowledge-base where past conversations are stored.
Anyone in a company can start their Yammer network and begin inviting colleagues. The privacy of each network is ensured by limiting access to only those with a valid company email address. Information is never shared with third parties. Jonathan Pollinger, new media manager for Vertex, a leading business outsourcer based in Gloucester, UK is utilizing Yammer for his team and over 150 employees have already joined the network. The COO has been also been enlisted and the Board and Executive team will follow soon.
The basic Yammer service is free, but companies can pay to claim and administer their networks. Founded by former executives and early employees of PayPal, eGroups, eBay, and Tribe, Yammer is backed by venture capital firms Founders Fund and Charles River Ventures.
"When you escape your inbox and let collaboration thrive," you have apparently become a 'socialcaster!' Socialcast’s software combines social bookmarking features, Twitter-like microblogging and FriendFeed-like streaming into one platform. Its main focus is to provide a range of collaborative features for its employees and assists business leaders in interacting with their respective teams.
According to Socialcast's promo pitch, "the ‘micro-blogging’ feature integrated with Socialcast, replaces the cluttered email in-boxes for distributing information within an organization." Professionals can become synchronized with their colleagues to collaborate productively on any number of projects. Their suite of tools help in building great synergies inter- and intra-departmentally, as professionals can address critical issues by holding interactive discussions.
According to an analysis by A.J. Vickery from the getconnected TV Show, he sees Socialcast as having more similarities to Facebook than Twitter.
The software, which used to be $1 per user per month, will now be free for an unlimited number of users, but businesses can choose to add paid features if they like. This includes the ability to see analytics and mine data from a group’s network and viewing tag clouds where employees can view the topics most and least often talked about.
Another premium feature is a consultancy service that shows how to help employees adopt and deploy the technology. For a extra fee, users can also choose to put Socialcast behind a firewall for extra protection.
Rypple is a web-based service similar to Twitter where its platform enables a spontaneous and tangible ecosystem to develop online. It also provides 'collaborative' functionality and it announced recently that it will be adding face-to-face meetings and collaborative editing to its agenda.
Differing from the other enterprise systems, Rypple lets users ask fellow employees in their networks to measure their performance against a scale, so they can track how they are doing over time. It also lets peers and bosses see what “tags”, or overarching themes are being used most often in questions. If, say, 'production' is key to a firm’s success but there are only a few requests for feedback on employees’ output, then superiors will know they have not done enough to communicate this priority.
Daniel Debow, one of Rypple’s co-founders, says the system “reverses the onus on the demand for more feedback” by prompting employees to build and manage their own coaching networks.
Launched in June, obayoo is the latest enterprise microblogging site to enter this space. Like Yammer, signing up with obayoo is facilitated only through company email accounts, though once you're in your network you can invite contractors and clients with non-company email addresses. Differing from Yammer's "What are you working on?", it simply entreats you to share something with your colleagues.
Obayoo adds the sort of features that have been assumed, though not necessarily proven to be useful in an enterprise system; ie. file and image sharing, metrics on links, full user profiles and an organizational chart. Interestingly, it also draws in some of the power of a tool like Rypple, allowing you to ask a question and receive answers outside of the microblogging stream.
Since it's currently free with no ostensible limit, it may be more attractive than Socialcast or other services that charge. It's also much more fully-featured than Yammer or some of the more simplistic services.
CubeTree differs slightly from the pack by offering the collaboration tools of wikis and polls. Claiming that although companies recognize the link between collaboration technology and employee productivity, Carlin Wiegner, chief executive officer and co-founder of CubeTree, believes that "what's keeping employees from connecting effectively is the current condition of most companies' intranets."
"To reap the full benefits from any collaboration technology, everyone in an organization must have access,” said Wiegner, “We believe the social networking technology that originated in the consumer space can revolutionize enterprise collaboration. CubeTree is the first product in our space that offers everyone in an organization access to all features including wikis, user profiles and micro-blogging for free."
Similar to Socialcast, the premium bells and whistles (custom branding, custom security policy and user synchronization) come with a small monthly fee, but you can try out the basic version of the solution for free.
With a slightly different collaborative approach, Socialtext recently announced the availability of Socialtext Free 50, a new free offering aimed at mainstream use for up to 50 people within an organization. Employees can join or create self-contained collaborative networks by using their work email addresses at Socialtext.com.
Socialtext Free 50 provides personalized dashboards, weblog publishing and a wiki workspace. Built on Adobe AIR technology, the dynamic desktop application includes "drag-n-drop" file sharing across the enterprise. The service is governed by IT friendly policies and offers the ability to seamlessly upgrade when a team requires more functional features.
Similar to what's anticipated with the roll-out of Google's Wave, Socialtext is offering SocialCalc, the first social spreadsheet program that reduces errors and increases productivity for teams working simultaneously on the same projects.
Inside CentralDesktop's platform, which is suited for both public and private communities, microblogging appears as simplistic updates that lack some of the features of Twitter or the more sophisticated enterprise alternatives like Socialcast. However a feature offered here that is lacking elsewhere is its ability to update Twitter and Facebook without leaving the site.
Central Desktop is a web-based groupware product which currently had 30,000+ worldwide users (as of April, 2009) that offers "a turnkey Intranet" for its enterprise subscribers. Key features include easy setup (without coding or "wikifying"), a company directory, a calendar and password protection for documents. Its promotional hype makes the point that their product can be used to house "dynamic content such as company announcements, workspace activities, RSS Feeds, popular bookmarks and favorite links that 'bubble up' from the various work-spaces - creating a real-time, 'always fresh' company Intranet."
Laconi.ca is a free Open Source microblogging platform. It assists people in a community, company or group to exchange the typical (140 character) messages over the Web. Users can choose which people to "follow" and receive only their friends' or colleagues' status messages. In addition to Twitter it provides a similar service to sites like Jaiku, and Plurk.
Differing from the other enterprise systems, the Laconi.ca platform requires a download.
However, if you want to give the site a test-run without the download you can view Identi.ca, the largest microblogging service based on Laconica.
The major difference between Laconi.ca and the others lies in the fact that its not limited to one site like Twitter. Identi.ca runs on laconi.ca as does the TWiT Army and Open Microblogger. The beauty lies in the ability to subscribe to users on other laconi.ca based sites. For example a user at TWIT Army can subscribe to a feed at identi.ca, and vice versa.
This collaboration suite was one of the first company to integrate Twitter. According to its web site promotional blurb, it "applies a fresh approach to project collaboration. With minimal setup you can start using it in minutes. The perfect resource for small and large groups alike, use JointContact to manage tasks, documents, images, contact lists, online discussions and team announcements."
Sending project related messages through Twitter is a significant addition to communicating solely by e-mail. "Now that JointContact works with Twitter, users will have more communication options to choose from," said founder Wayne Bishop. Twitter messages can be accessed from cell phones, PDA's, and computers, which makes it even easier to keep team members in the loop.
JointContact enables project teams to track and manage the entire communication and information flow associated with a project. Users can link ongoing discussions to content, such as documents, images, spread sheets, presentations, contacts, and tasks.
HeadMix is a slightly different take on the concept of social business software and microblogging in particular. Used by large firms such as Best Buy, HeadMix specializes in messaging in between employees using their existing communication flows such as Outlook.
Designed for the demands of both business and the daily workforce, HeadMix's Social Business Software connects employees to information, experts, and expertise throughout an enterprise. Headmix talks to the needs of a company that sees the value in a platform that can answer questions quickly; surface and share best practices; develop new ideas; while weaving in key conversations throughout the workday.
Their Twitter profile describes this software business model as "helping enterprises reset their communications model to flatten their hierarchy so employees can take faster smarter action in the workplace."
If you have never used Facebook or Twitter, then you may not see the need to utilize a social-networking-like tool in your company or organization. But with Google soon to roll-out Google Wave, it appears to me that 'enterprise' platforms are becoming mainstream and a requirement by companies that are looking to not only gain a competitive edge but also address the next generation of employees in the workplace that have already gravitated to these types of platforms as result of their familiarity with Facebook and Twitter.
If knowledge is power, as Francis Bacon once said, this may well mean the new knowledge that is generated from these systems will change organizations and the way we work. Sharing knowledge will encourage a new form of information exchange. Organizations should be prepared to think through their options and decide if, when, and how 'enterprise microblogging' can be best utilized within their company's organization.
While Twitter and Facebook were the basic first steps, 'enterprise microblogging' is the next logical phase in the evolutionary process to collaborate in the workplace.
If you are familiar with any of the TOP TEN listed here, please take the POLL below and let us know the one you foresee becoming the dominant player. If you are still learning about them, please stop back and vote when you have had a chance to kick their tires and have given them a test run. Or if you know of one that I have overlooked, please leave us a comment with the company's name and URL.