May 16, 2010
Business social-networking tools take collaboration to a personal level
The Associated Press
Microsoft’s SharePoint 2010, released Wednesday, includes features that allow co-workers to personalize their profiles. (Screen shot courtesy of Microsoft)
For those who thought they could avoid joining the more than 400 million residents of Planet Facebook, abandon all hope. Social networking — complete with Facebook-like status updates, profile pages and networks of social connections — is coming to your office cubicle.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based Socialtext and other companies already supply workplaces with the same sort of online social tools that Facebook, Wikipedia and Twitter brought into the mainstream in recent years — features such as networks of personal connections, internal wikis that allow groups of employees to collaborate, and Twitter-like microblogs that co-workers can follow.
In the latest example, Microsoft launched its SharePoint 2010 “business collaboration platform” on Wednesday. Analysts say online social networking is crossing over from something you do for fun with friends and family to something you increasingly will do with co-workers as part of your job.
A sampling of business social-networking software:
IBM Lotus Connections
Jive SBS 4.0
Microsoft SharePoint 2010
MindTouch Core, Enterprise, Standard or Cloud
The Morphix Company’s MetaSight
“People are bringing their Facebook experience into the enterprise,” says Rob Koplowitz, an analyst with the research firm Forrester. He says the presence of giants such as IBM and Microsoft will make 2010 “a defining year” in the crossover of social networking to the workplace.
By that, Koplowitz doesn’t mean logging onto Facebook at your desk and uploading your photos from Maui while the boss is looking the other way. Rather, companies say their social-networking software can help workers find the right colleague to help them complete a task, can help organize and locate internal data more easily and can boost productivity and reduce redundancy by better sharing what everyone is doing.
For example, Microsoft’s SharePoint 2010 and Socialtext allow workers to maintain their own profile page, a familiar Facebook feature. This includes personal information such as the employee’s name, title, photo, contact information, college, birthday, hobbies and a thumbnail account of his or her experience with the company.
Facebook “Friends” become “Colleagues” on SharePoint 2010. Echoing another Facebook feature — Microsoft owns a share of the popular social-networking site — workers can type real-time status updates on their profile page to let others within the organization know what they are up to, such as, “Meeting with sales team in Dallas.”
Most of the programs focus not only on improving communication, but also on organizing and archiving each employee’s personal data and external contacts — meaning knowledge doesn’t walk out the door with an employee. Employees have the option of keeping some documents private, though much of it is shared.
For big corporations such as IBM — where more than 40 percent of employees work outside the office, often scattered around the world — social networking has proved crucial, says Carol Sormilic, IBM’s vice president of social media. The company used its own experience to produce Lotus Connections.
When the company launched a service Sormilic described as “IBM’s version of Facebook,” she says, “You wouldn’t believe how quickly it took off. It demonstrates how people were wanting to touch each other.”
Sormilic says she still encounters doubters who question the value of having workers put their kids’ photos on their workplace profile page, but she says companies must replace face-to-face contact if they are to accommodate a work force that expects the freedom to set hours or work from home.
“When you walk in my office, you’d see the certificates on the wall; you’d see my thoughts on the whiteboard; you’d see if it’s messy or neat. You’d walk into my office, and in 10 seconds you’d know me a little,” she says. “And that’s what some aspects of social media do. It really facilitates social relationships, whether it’s across continents or time zones.”
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