Social Networks and the Enterprise

by N. Raghavan    Nov 12, 2007

Looks like corporate social networks are the next big thing. Social networking increasingly demonstrates both the interest and possibilities of online communities — communities where people come together to exchange information, develop interpersonal relationships, and establish long-term social networks.

The buzz around consumer sites such as MySpace and Facebook is perceptible. Among business users the cross-company contact directory, LinkedIn, has been popular for quite some time now, and to a lesser extent Orkut. More enterprise social networking platform vendors have joined the party in recent times. Visible Path, a California-based start-up, for instance, offers a social networking service for businesses which it refers to as Relationship Capital Management, or RCM. Other companies in this space include Spoke, Contact Networks, and Tacit. Offerings from each of these companies have gained traction in the corporate marketplace, with a number of investment banks and pharmaceutical companies taking to them in a big way. Interestingly, social network services are increasingly being used in legal and criminal investigations.

IBM has got into the act with a set of social software tools. Called Lotus Connections, the new software allows employees set up virtual worlds in which they can meet like-minded colleagues within the company and exchange ideas with them. Lotus Connections will 5 distinct components — activities, communities, dogear (a bookmarking system), profiles, and blogs — aimed at helping experts within a company connect and build new relationships based on their individual needs. IBM also introduced Info 2.0, a way for companies to extract data from applications and databases using syndication technology.

Rival Microsoft is also in the fray, with its Office SharePoint Server 2007 serving as the foundation of its social software. The company has also announced its commitment to build 100 social networking business applications before June 2008 for use inside the company. Google has purchased 3 mobile social networking startups — Dodgeball, Zingku and Jaiku — in the last 2 plus years.

Social networking sites in the corporate context are not just about, well, social networking. The big challenge today is knowledge sharing. Often, employees within the same team and even more often across teams, find themselves “rediscovering” the same information. So, what better way to share the valuable information found on the Web than a social bookmarking system?

New social tools can enable companies to be more agile. They can also help break down the walls of complex, ineffective hierarchies and to empower employees to get things done. Security is a concern, yes, but then it’s the responsibility of the IT department to adequately meet enterprise security concerns while ensuring that employees are enabled access to new tools that increase productivity.

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