Social Networking Vendors Flooding Market

Enterprises can choose from a rapidly growing number of social-networking platforms.

As collaboration through social networking catches on in the enterprise, a raft of white-label social-networking platform providers have sprung up, hoping to beat major software makers and home-grown projects to the punch.

The new breed of Facebook-style, white-label social networks are designed to be customized to match the look and feel of an organization's branding and in-house apps.

New Players
CollectiveX Inc. is one of the many new players in the market. Founder and CEO Clarence Wooten says his company's Web-based, hosted product has grown to include 7,000 group sites since it was founded a little over a year ago-and roughly a third of those are used as business workgroups or corporate intranets.

"A lot of corporations see them as replacements for SharePoint," he says, noting that CollectiveX enables file storage, image galleries for presentations, e-vites for meetings and other features similar to Microsoft SharePoint.

Another start-up, Social Platform LLC, joined the fray late last year. President and CEO Eric Schlissel bills Social Platform as more malleable than SharePoint or IBM Corp.'s Lotus Connections. "For Microsoft, will you have to be tied to Exchange and tied to Active Directory and blah, blah, blah?" Schlissel says.

For its part, Microsoft holds that social networking is most useful to business when tied into business-productivity software, such as Office. "What we've heard loud and clear from customers," the spokesperson writes in an e-mail, "is when it's outside the productivity tools and collaboration environments they spend their day in, it just doesn't get used."

Forrester Research Inc. analyst Rob Koplowitz says Microsoft and IBM, while somewhat late to the market, have solid social-networking products that appeal to enterprise IT departments focused on security, reliability and compliance. Among the smaller players he notes as having had early success penetrating the enterprise are Atlassian Software Systems Ltd., which makes a combined wiki and bug-tracking tool called Confluence, and Traction Software Inc., which describes its TeamPage hypertext platform as "enterprise blog software."

Risk Free Advantage
While Microsoft and IBM have the enterprise pedigrees, Koplowitz says some of the small vendors are equally enterprise-savvy, and they also have one notable advantage over the big dogs: Companies can give them a try without making a big investment.

"It can be very compelling to look at one of them and say, 'We'll give you 50 licenses and just see how it goes. If it works well, we'll grow it.' It's disposable technology," Koplowitz says. If employees embrace the new social network and find it productive, the door may just slam shut on larger competitors.
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