Enterprise social software spurs connections

The InfoWorld Test Center reveals the strengths and weaknesses of blogging, wiki, and community solutions from CubeTree, Jive, Socialtext, and Telligent

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.

[ Considering Groove as your collaboration platform? Compare the benefits of outsourcing versus in-house deployment. | Take a visual tour of the four social software products in this roundup. ]

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.

Social enterprise software at a glance

 CubeTreeJive SocialtextTelligent
CostBasic is free; Professional costs $3 per user per month; Enterprise costs $5 per user per month. Volume discounts available.Jive Express costs $3 per user per month (maximum of 1,000 users); Jive SBS (cloud and on premise) costs $59 per user per year. Volume discounts above 1,000 users.Free for 50 users; hosted service costs $6 per user per month; on-site or hosted appliance costs $1,000 per month plus $1 (microblogging only) or $5 (all features) per user per month.Quoted individually
PlatformsHosted serviceExpress runs on Amazon EC2; SBS is hosted (SunGard) or licensed software for in-house installation (J2EE).Hosted service, on-site or hosted appliance (Ubuntu Linux, Apache/Perl).Licensed software (Microsoft ASP.Net 3.5)
Pros"Forever free" edition. Third-party feed integrations. Blog, wiki, and groups. Secure, cross-company posting. Link and file sharing. Multiple mobile clients.Preconfigured solutions. Cloud or in-house versions (based on J2EE). Document management. Organize content by spaces, groups, or projects. Business video module. Very good analytics.Integrates microblogging, wikis, and user profiles. On-site or hosted appliance for extra security. Widgets based on OpenSocial framework. Strong tagging. REST-based API for integration with other applications.Integrated internal collaboration and external communities. Integrates with other business applications. Drag-and-drop dashboard customization. Works with directory servers. Excellent analytics.
ConsNo on-premise version. No formal communities.Complex to set up. End-user ease-of-use could be improved.No formal communities. Lacks some lesser functions. Profiles could be expanded.Requires customization for a functional system. Not many out-of-box widgets for connecting with other systems.
Bottom LineCubeTree offers the full complement of features -- microblogging, wikis, file sharing, groups, instant messaging, link sharing, polls, photos, and mobile clients -- while enabling workers to easily get at content though customized feeds and search and to connect with others in the organization through user profiles. The enterprise version provides enhanced security and customized branding.Jive Social Business Software comes in four preconfigured solutions -- Employee Engagement, Marketing and Sales, Innovation, and Support centers -- each providing a wiki for collaboration. This content can be organized by spaces, groups, or projects. Document management, blogs, polls, and analytics are included.Socialtext's collaboration platform integrates social networking, microblogging, wiki workspaces with integrated blogs, distributed spreadsheets, and a personal home page for every user. Connectors to Microsoft SharePoint and Lotus Connections are also available (appliance only) and widgets are based on OpenSocial gadgets.Telligent offers very strong internal colllaboration and community products. Enterprise 2.0 lets you integrate existing business applications, including SharePoint and enterprise search products. Community 5.0 includes Twitter-like activity streams and drag-and-drop dashboard customization. Social analytics (currently in preview) help you track and measure customer interactions.
InfoWorld Scorecard
Analysis tools (10.0%)
Features (30.0%)
Management (20.0%)
Scalability (10.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Ease of use (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
CubeTree 7.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 8.4
Jive Social Business Software 3.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 8.4
Socialtext Enterprise Social Software 3.5 7.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 8.7
Telligent Community 5.0 and Telligent Enterprise 2.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 8.0 8.7
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