Demo Fall 09: Hashwork bridges gulf between public and corporate Twittering

Startup hopes to appeal to enterprise IT shops by offering more control over employee postings

Hugely popular social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn make many companies nervous about what their employees might inadvertently reveal to outsiders.

Corporate tools such as Yammer or those based on Microsoft's SharePoint or IBM Lotus Collaboration's platforms have yet to catch fire. Their behind-the-firewall restrictions, while popular with the bosses, makes them less appealing to workers wanting to connect with business partners or the general public.

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A New York City startup, Hashwork, wants to bridge the gulf between public and corporate microblogging with its service.

"We want to help cure anti-social business disorder," said Wendell Lansford, co-founder of Hashwork, during an interview at the Demo Fall 09 conference on Tuesday.

Like Twitter, Hashwork is a free service that lets users write pithy status updates and attach files and images. Hashwork is already integrated with Twitter, meaning users can have their tweets automatically appear on their public Hashwork feed, and vice versa.

That is key for adoption, Lansford said, since it doesn't force hard-core Twitter users -- Hashwork's hoped-for early adopters and evangelists -- to retype their updates in one more place.

The differences: At signup, Hashwork users are automatically put into a group associated with their company. Hashwork users can create more groups, either within their company or interest/affinity groups outside of their employer. They can then choose what groups can read their messages. With Twitter, users can only choose whether all of their status updates are readable by friends or any user.

As the number of users inside a company grows, Hashwork hopes to woo enterprise IT shops to purchase the service for to give them greater control.

A $95-per-month subscription lets IT administrators remove departed employees from groups, for instance. With the $495-per-month enterprise subscription, companies can set time delays on Hashwork posts so that they can be reviewed before they appear, or take back and delete employee posts.

Lansford acknowledged that some companies or organizations are so secretive or heavily regulated -- investment banks or some government agencies, for instance -- that even a tool such as Hashwork, which simultaneously encourages and controls employees' public twittering, may not immediately appeal. But he maintained that with so many corporate workers already posting status updates on LinkedIn or Facebook, the trend is unstoppable.

Besides the aforementioned Yammer, Microsoft, and IBM tools, Hashwork also competes with corporate tools from Jive Software and Lithium Technologies.

Lansford said Hashwork's public/private orientation beats the former group, and its more modern interface beats the latter.

The company plans to integrate its service with Facebook updates soon, Lansford said, as well as give Twitter users finer control over which Hashwork groups their messages appear.

The company is bootstrapped by Lansford and his co-founder, Prakash Mishra, and is looking for financing.

This story, "Demo Fall 09: Hashwork bridges gulf between public and corporate Twittering" was originally published by Computerworld.