Last week’s pick of the week was from David Carr on the topic of social software products and what they really do. The article was based on a session that Tony Byrne facilitated at the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. There were some interesting topics discussed that highlight the current state (and confusion) associated with the enterprise social software space.
The first point by Byrne that is excellent to level set is the difference between collaboration software and social software. Collaboration as Byrne defines is focused on two or more people jointly working on a shared task, document or activity. SharePoint, love it or hate it, is the classic collaboration platform. Social software is much more focused on the relationship, making connections and discovering other individuals. As Byrne says, “this is about humanizing the digital experience”. To add to that, most social software can help with the general “broadcast” type of communication. Yammer is a good example of a social software platform. And in case you have been living under a rock, Microsoft is in the process of acquiring Yammer to potentially add social capabilities to its collaboration platform.
The other interesting point was distinguishing the social platform players versus the more established collaboration software. Clearly the social platforms are younger companies that are considered “startups” by nature. They also have followed more of the consumer trends and helped bring the capabilities of Facebook and Twitter into the enterprise. I don’t agree with Byrne’s point of view that the enterprise social platforms are more immature. Instead I think the way software is released by these startups is more inline with agile concepts that don’t focus on long software cycles and instead start with the minimum viable product (MVP). Since most of these vendors are cloud-based it also affords them the opportunity to bring new features to the market faster. No one does this better than Salesforce.com. The difference for cloud software vendors is changing the face of the software industry. It reminds me of something that Ellison said back in the 1996 PBS Documentary “Triumph of the Nerds”:
I hate the PC with a passion. Me going down to the store and buying Windows 95, I’ve got to get into my car drive down to a store buy a cardboard box full of bits you know encoded on a piece of plastic CDROM and you bring it home and read a manual install this thing – you must be kidding you know, put the stuff on the net – it’s bits, don’t put bits in cardboard, cardboard in trucks, trucks to stores, me go to the store, you know, pick the stuff out, it’s insane. OK I love the Internet – I want information you know it flows across the wire.
Larry was clearly right and predicted the future of software in a wired world. Unfortunately it went a little bit further than he may have wanted and forced Oracle, along with the rest of the established enterprise software space, to play catch-up.
Ultimately unwinding the industry is difficult as each platform scrambles to either add collaboration or social capabilities and to what capacity. Microsoft grabbing Yammer will be interesting to see how they decide to integrate the product, if at all, into their office suite or SharePoint platform. But they are a perfect example of the blurring lines between collaboration and social.