InfoWorld - Before the meteoric rise of Facebook and Twitter, many organizations were far along building online communities. IBM, the first large enterprise to encourage employee blogging, now has thousands of blogs spanning every business unit. Cisco offers dozens of blogs on topics from energy management to optimizing your WAN. Outside of technology, Johnson & Johnson dedicates a site to discussions of heath care issues. And there's the legendary Marriott on the Move by Marriott chairman and CEO Bill Marriott.
Yet what binds these examples, and many others, is that they're public. Today, employees are asking for similar capabilities, and much more, inside the firewall. Sure, groupware such as Microsoft's SharePoint does a commendable job of providing workspaces and shared document libraries for established projects.
What these traditional collaboration tools lack, however, is a way for workers to connect without formalities -- which is a main way knowledge discovery and innovation happens. For this reason, vendors are rushing to surround consumer-style microblogging, social networking, and related capabilities with the security and management that IT and legal departments demand.
More specifically, the new wave of enterprise social products combines subscribing to feeds so that you can monitor the activities of others inside (and sometimes outside) your organization, comment on posts, and form groups to enable deeper collaboration. At the extreme, you'll find groups transformed into formal communities, each with dedicated wikis, blogs, and file sharing functions.
But there's still a catch: Many solutions provide only one solid feature (such as microblogging), while other capabilities seem like an afterthought. Because these functions aren't integrated, you're creating -- not bridging -- even more information islands within and without your organization.
With these goals and caveats in mind, I looked at the current state of social software and identified four solutions that encompass hosted or on-premise blogging, wiki, and community packages. These include CubeTree, Jive Social Business Software, Socialtext, and Telligent.
What about Yammer (free to $5 per user, per month), the first corporate social networking product? Yammer matches CubeTree's access controls, provides desktop and mobile clients, and includes a basic API. In the end, however, I felt Yammer's focus on microblogging put it in a different category than the broader solutions I formally review here. Still, Yammer's healthy corporate following shows it is a viable option for many industries.
And if you're the open source type, Laconica is my pick among the free microblogging tools.
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