This week represents an important inflection point for the Enterprise 2.0 market, a set of software vendors that sell social networking technologies to businesses. Analysts say the number of competitors will consolidate in the coming year as Microsoft captures greater market share. The startups that will survive must carve out a long-term place for themselves by building applications that are far more innovative and cheaper than those of the incumbent software giant. In addition, they must convince businesses that Microsoft SharePoint's "good enough" strategy is not, in fact, good enough for today's enterprise collaboration needs.
As Enterprise 2.0 vendors convene for their annual industry conference here in Boston this week, many continue to fight the complacency of businesses who prefer to use Microsoft as a default choice for all their enterprise collaboration needs. SharePoint, an application that started as a document management system to store (among other items) Microsoft Office files, has since added social features, including profiles, blogs, and wikis. Although Microsoft's smaller, nimbler competitors have built more sophisticated social networking applications for businesses, analysts say SharePoint has been "good enough" for many companies.
[ InfoWorld's J. Peter Bruzzesse looks into the many faces of Microsoft SharePoint in "Will the real SharePoint please stand up?" | Discover what's new in business applications with InfoWorld's Technology: Applications newsletter. ]
"Microsoft is turning social collaboration into a commodity pretty quickly," says Oliver Young, a senior analyst at Forrester who follows the Enterprise 2.0 market. "Social collaboration through an app like SharePoint is a given, since so many companies already have SharePoint. They can leverage social features at no or very little extra cost."
In addition, industry experts predict the quality of the social applications in SharePoint will improve drastically next year when the vendor releases SharePoint 2010. It will represent a significant upgrade to the product, which last enjoyed a major iteration nearly three years ago -- an eternity in Web years, though normal for Microsoft's traditional, multiyear R&D cycles.
"From everything we know, SharePoint will get better," says Susan Scrupski, an Enterprise 2.0 and collaboration expert who pens the ITSinsider blog. "It's likely going to be more social, collaborative, and easier to use."
Young predicts SharePoint 2010 will be nothing short of a "day of reckoning" for the Enterprise 2.0 vendors, making this year's conference an important benchmark. As potential business technology buyers battle difficult budgets and examine their existing IT systems, when it comes to social software, many will decide between SharePoint or a cheaper alternative - and, in some cases, a bit of both.