Enterprise 2.0 vendors abound, but what about buyers?

The market for enterprise-class social networking and collaboration won't really take off until stronger use cases emerge, observers say

A gaggle of vendors, consultants, and end-users are set to converge at a Boston hotel Monday for this year's Enterprise 2.0 conference, but it's unclear how many actual IT decision makers will show up with cash in hand.

In general, Enterprise 2.0 refers to companies' use of social-networking and collaboration technologies to get closer to customers and tap the "collective intelligence" contained within their organizations.

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But despite several years of industry hype, only a relative handful of large companies have implemented such tools, according to a study released this month by Forrester Research. For example, just 18 percent are either piloting, implementing, or expanding their implementation of Facebook-style social-networking tools, with 63 percent saying they are "not interested" or "don't know."

Despite those meager numbers, vendors appear undaunted.

There are twice as many news announcement scheduled as last year, and the show's Launch Pad event, in which new companies compete for a chance to showcase their technologies, received more than 80 submissions, said general manager Steve Wylie.

"While there's a lot of [economic] gloom and doom out there, there's a lot of innovation," Wylie said.

Attendance is expected to be about 1,500, which is flat over last year. Given the times, "we're saying that's a big win," Wylie said.

The show itself may be holding steady, but one analyst who tracks the market says Enterprise 2.0 still lacks what it needs to take off. That will happen with an example of a "really killer breakthrough" implementation of such technologies in use throughout a large enterprise with a tangible return on investment, versus departmental deployments that are most common so far, said Susan Scrupski, an analyst and consultant.

While a range of companies -- including Lockheed Martin, JetBlue, and AllState -- are planning to discuss various projects and initiatives at the show, organizers have recognized the need for a flagship example, Wylie said.

Researchers Stowe Boyd and Oliver Marks have conducted a project that sought to identify "the one company that best exemplifies Enterprise 2.0," Wylie said. The winner will be revealed during a session Tuesday.

Meanwhile, one future development that could jumpstart Enterprise 2.0 adoption is the upcoming release of Microsoft's SharePoint 2010, according to Scrupski.

Fortune 500 companies she speaks with are "almost 100 percent" interested in using the collaboration and content management platform for an Enterprise 2.0 strategy, Scrupski said. "It's the only thing they're considering, the only thing they'll experiment with.... If [SharePoint 2010] is greatly improved, it will be a force to be reckoned with."

One SharePoint competitor professed no worries about the upcoming launch.

MindTouch, maker of a wiki and collaboration platform, has replaced SharePoint in midsized and smaller companies and is used by many large enterprises, including Microsoft itself, according to CEO Aaron Fulkerson.

It can be "a nightmare" to integrate SharePoint and the software often becomes "a static file dumping ground," he claimed. "I don't see that changing much with SharePoint [2010]."

In the meantime, a slew of vendors are continuing to bring products to market, many of which will be announced during the conference. Among the releases:

  • NewsGator is going to discuss a new type of "self-assembling" wikis called Socialpedias
  • Tomoye Community Software will showcase the third version of its community platform, which can be deployed in stand-alone form or along with SharePoint
  • Content management vendor Open Text is set to announce a social-media module for its ECM Suite that will include iPhone and BlackBerry support

Enterprise 2.0 begins Monday evening with a session on cloud computing and continues through Thursday.

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