Interesting - but I remain quite skeptical - especially regarding "MOSS 2007 as your default option for enabling and managing social networks for business use". But this document is the best effort I've seen to-date to represent the capabilities that do exist into a social networking storyline. But it's just not there yet. My community and social networking short-list remains (in alphabetical order):
- Awareness Networks
- Contact Networks
- IBM Lotus Connections
- Jive Software (Clearspace, Clearspace-X)
- Leverage Software
- Ramius (CommunityZero for Enterprises and for Consumers)
- Select Minds
Solutions that intrigue the most right now (alpha order): Awareness Networks, HiveLive and SelectMinds - but none are perfect, all of these vendors have some gaps in their technical architecture, application functionality or go-to-market effort. There are some others worth mentioning to round things out: Ning, WetPaint, Web Crossing, Prospero, iCohere, Tomoye, Visible Path, Tacit, Collective-X also play in this space). I expect Oracle to be here at some point as well.
Of course, selecting any vendor is dependent on your goals, requirements, risk tolerance and other constraints (compliance). What comes to mind immediately when you look at this list is that most of the community and social networking solutions are not from major platform vendors (with the exception of IBM of course) and many offer only hosted services. This situation can influence decision-making - people may prefer to evolve with Microsoft over the next couple of years as they figure this space out - especially for internal deployments.
I find that in external situations, people are a lot more open-minded to specialized vendors given the potential benefits from a brand, customer/partner relationship, and revenue perspective - organizations looking at these solutions as part of a corporate social responsibility effort are also more apt to leverage best-of-breed providers. Even in some internal situations, strategists looking for purposeful applications are receptive to specialized vendors when they need targeted community or social network platforms for alumni, retiree, professional support, talent management, or recruiting solutions.
My conclusion from the excerpt below is that (1) Microsoft does not yet understand many of the fundamental concepts around social networking and the important distinctions between social networks and communities (2) Microsoft is looking at this through the lens of productivity which is very limiting (3) the information below reveals some poor design assumptions (in my opinion) that make this more closer to a formal (perhaps semi-formal) network (white pages, contact network) not a "social network" that is more informal (which is not necessarily bad, just not "as advertised"), (4) there are several fundamental elements that do appear solid (user profile, social distance in search) that Microsoft can build on but it is not clear how much of the social network capability is achievable outside an all-SharePoint environment (creating a product-centric version of a "walled garden", (5) there appear to be some capabilities in here that I thought were in the original Knowledge Network effort so I am wondering if pieces are going to show up piecemeal (6) I need to learn more about the BDC and how that syncs with the institutional data that needs to be included in profiles.
Enabling and managing social networks (for business use) with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
While the Microsoft / Facebook expanded partnership announcement made earlier today doesn't have anything to do with SharePoint, the publicity it generated will likely get a lot more people to start thinking or asking about the value of social networking capabilities within an enterprise and between a company and its business partners as well as its customers. Eric Charran (Senior Consultant in Microsoft Consulting Services), Dino Dato-on (SharePoint Ranger), and Greg Lang (Program Manager for Microsoft Enterprise Services Communities Tools and Infrastructure) have written a soon to be published white paper that addresses the topic of the importance of social networking in an organization and how to properly implement MOSS 2007 as a social networking solution. Excerpted below are key portions of the white paper, which I hope will get you to think about MOSS 2007 as your default option for enabling and managing social networks for business use.
Social networking is much more than "productivity" although given Microsoft's emphasis on Business Productivity Infrastructure I understand the association with related go-to-marketing messages.
"The concept of social networking has recently experienced a great deal of visibility as a means to increase the productivity of information workers and organization members."
This is a surprising statement - and shows a critical lack of understanding - one can make the general statement that "all communities are social networks" but the concept is asymmetrical - not all social networks are communities. It is a mistake for people to only equate social networking with CoPs. That is one facet - but not the only one.
Social networking systems in the enterprise (commonly referred to as “Communities of Practice”) can help increase productivity and efficiency.
I would strongly disagree that it adds "significant" social networking context. Microsoft is pointing to the one area that is not all that bad actually - the user profile function. But some of the more interesting profiling capabilities that were in Knowledge Network have been delayed. And I am not exactly sure about the capability of SharePoint to integrate with HRMS, LMS and other formal information sources and synchronize that sources to your user profile.
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 adds a significant social networking context to its existing collaboration and communication features and capabilities. By providing a framework for the establishment of user profiles and the ability to understand the organizational hierarchy between these profiles, Office SharePoint Server can easily connect information workers and organization members together.
Interesting - I thought the mining feature was part of Knowledge Network so I am curious what's changed since I was last briefed. Mining e-mail and other sources (similar to what Tacit and Contact Networks do) is a complex undertaking and requires careful implementation of privacy controls.
Based on the organization's implementation of products including Active Directory, Exchange Server, Live Communications Server 2005 or Office Communications Server 2007, Office SharePoint Server will mine this information at the individual user level to determine other team members, organizational managers and direct reports and virtual team members that should appear on an individual's colleagues list. The colleagues list, presented through web parts on an individual’s personal profile page of their My Site will list these related individuals and provide contact, presence and organizational information to visitors.
Correct - moving from a simple "white pages" to a more robust profile environment requires a sub-system that integrates with a variety of operational information sources as well as content, communication and collaboration systems - IBM with its Lotus Connections product achieves some of this by using Tivoli Directory Integrator - it's not clear but I imagine Microsoft is going down the path of MIIS.
While the organizational hierarchy import from an authoritative directory store (such as Active Directory) is how Office SharePoint Server builds its initial foundation for social networking, organizations often have supplementary sources of information that can be combined to provide increased or enriched personal profile information.
I wonder if it can point to "real" blogs and wikis (not the sub-optimal implementations within SharePoint itself) ... so if I have a WordPress or Traction blog - or a Socialtext wiki - do they show up? How many design assumptions are being made that the social networking capabilities only exist within a SharePoint world? If so - how realistic is this design assumption - especially when you think about social networks that might span organizational boundaries?
The My Site can contain personal and targeted blogs, wikis, lists and web parts displaying colleagues and other profile information.
For example, users can modify the colleague tracker to present updated colleagues when anniversaries, profile properties, authored documents and blogs change.
Ah - so not MIIS but BDC ... hmm, I have to noodle on that, I actually have not tracked BDC.
As depicted in the figure below, data sources that populate user profiles can originate from Active Directory as well as an organization’s Human Resource Information System (HRIS) via the Business Data Catalog (BDC). By combining this information, enriched data regarding an individual’s skills, area of expertise, title, job description, etc. can be exposed through Office SharePoint Server’s social networking features.
Again - not all social networking solutions need a pre-requisite of an organizational hierarchy in order to become effective. I would question some of the underlying design assumptions here. It is true that profile data that is "certified" in the sense that it is institutional data needs to be correct and that issues related to identity and so on need to be accurate. And yes, knowing the formal hierarchy helps with social networking methods - but to position it as a pre-requisite I find quite odd. This phrasing comes across almost as a warning - failure to hang your social network around the formal hierarchy will defeat the system - but the informal network often exists regardless of hierarchy in the real world.
The organizational hierarchy is a critical construct that allows Office SharePoint Server to begin the establishment of colleagues for users. The organizational hierarchy is built directly from fields within the user profile object for each user.
It is of vital importance that the organizational hierarchy is reviewed and accepted by the organization as it is one of the critical foundational elements of Office SharePoint Server’s social networking capabilities. If the organizational hierarchy is not accurate, all further mining and relationships between colleagues can be adversely affected. The best way to ensure that the hierarchy is accurate is to validate the information supplied to the user profile and resolve any differences and inaccuracies between the data sources that feed the profile.
More clarity - again, quite odd - this is more "white pages" than social networking. More "contact network" than social network". My colleagues are my colleagues - regardless of organizational hierarchy. The design assumption of including people that you have a reporting relationship with in the context of colleagues and social networking is really quite strange. This is more of a formal network framework disguised as a social networking solution...
Colleagues represent a core underpinning of the social networking experience. By enumerating colleagues and displaying them on user’s My Site and profile information through various web parts, organization members can easily view and connect with individuals that hold relationships to specific teams, initiatives and interests.
Colleagues are built on the information constructed from the organizational hierarchy. Thus, immediate peers, managers and direct reports are included in a specific user’s list of colleagues.