The World Wide Web Consortium wants to bring the power of social media to the enterprise.
The W3C, which manages most of the widely used standards that power the Web, has partnered with the OpenSocial Foundation to develop ways for enterprise social software to trade information.
"We've become social, but not the applications we use on the daily basis," said John Mertic, president of the OpenSocial Foundation. "We're trying to tear down these silos [of enterprise software] and make applications communicate with one another."
The working group is refining a format to make social network activity streams digestible by different enterprise applications.
The group is also working on a common vocabulary for functions that can be shared across applications as well.
While consumer-focused social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter have enjoyed great popularity, especially among youth, software for facilitating communications across an organization has not been as successful.
"This will make it easier for a lot of these socials platforms to take hold, because you get out of the complex area of all how all the application programming interfaces work together," Mertic said. "A standardized API and vocabulary will make it easy for these apps to interoperate, and reduces the heavy one-time implementation costs to put these applications together."
Social networking software within an organization can be useful as a way to tie together activities across other enterprise applications, Mertic said. Using a status update, for instance, a customer representative can alert other members of the organization, such as those in finance, once a sale has been made.
With a set of standards in place, administrators won't have to spend undue time connecting different systems together, as long as each of the systems supports the interfaces developed by the working group.
"There has been a lot of software that has claimed to do this, but without open standards it hasn't worked out. So we think open standards is key," said Harry Halpin, the W3C liaison for the working group. "This is a pretty big deal for the enterprise space."
Some of the heavy lifting for the project has already been done by the OpenSocial Foundation, which was formed in 2007 by Google, Yahoo and MySpace, to develop a set of standards for interoperable social data. The work from OpenSocial has already been implemented in a number of enterprise software products, including those by IBM, SugarCRM, Jive Software and Tibco, among others.
The work aims to make data "actionable," Mertic said, meaning the software can not only can pass on data to users, but actually take actions based on the data.
For instance, a system with an embedded feed from the LinkedIn professional networking service can show when a peer has gotten a promotion and then offer the user the ability to congratulate the fellow employee. "It's not just having the data, but you are being clued in as to what the next step may be with that data," Mertic said.