Posted by: Rob Hof on September 30, 2008
For years, Socialtext has helped pioneer the use of wikis, or group-editable Web pages a la Wikipedia, inside companies. Today, it’s launching Socialtext 3.0, a collection of three applications built on top of its wiki platform.
I got a glimpse last week with CEO Eugene Lee and Ross Mayfield, Socialtext’s cofounder, chairman, and president. Although I can’t speak for how well they will work in practice, the applications seemed to hang together in an understated, Facebook-like way that could appeal to regular, nontechie folks in a way that wikis so far have not.
On top of an upgraded Workspace, Socialtext's core offering, there are two new applications. One is People, a sort of Facebook for the enterprise, and a personalized Dashboard, a NetVibes for the enterprise that helps you track social network updates, conversation threads, data sources, and the like in one place. "The power of social networking at work is finding an answer or somebody who has the answer or knows someone who does," says Lee. "The goal is to leverage the social network to get things done."
One advantage of these applications is that users don't necessarily have to update their status or projects overtly, since their work in the system automatically produces such updates that other people can view. That may be more appealing than the manual updates common in consumer social services. This way, says Lee in a metaphor that's descriptive if not exactly appealing marketing, "you can breathe other people's data smog."
Ultimately, Lee and Mayfield view this kind of social networking within the enterprise as a way to avoid having to do massive organizational changes, such as matrix organizations or virtual teams, that often disrupt useful work instead of fostering better communication as they were intended to do.
The new applications have been in beta test mode with 25 customers for the past few months. There's a free trial available starting today, though the company charges $10 and up per user per month for ongoing use. Socialtext also has more coming: Signals, a Twitter for the enterprise, is planned for later this year.
The challenge of any service that offers "[you name it] for the enterprise," of course, is that there's already potential competition from the original services--as well as others with similar ideas. Even though the digital marketing firm iCrossing is using Socialtext, for example, it's also testing out Yammer, which is ... a Twitter for the enterprise, like Signals. Also, wikis generally require something of a cultural shift in corporations toward a more collaborative organization.
Still, I think there's a market for a service like Socialtext's whose integrated applications don't require you to cobble together a bunch of applications that may or may not work together.