Entries from April 2008 ↓

GroupSwim: text analysis meets collaboration

This blog post led us to GroupSwim, a company we met with the other day. I found GroupSwim to be a particularly interesting example of the value text analysis can lend to content management, something Nick wrote about the other day.

GroupSwim isn’t selling content management software in the classic sense. It’s SaaS offering is for collaboration, either for internal teams or externally-facing communities. It actually reminds me most of Koral, which Salesforce.com acquired a year ago and has since become Salesforce Content.

There’s a bit more meat to what GroupSwim offers though as it uses natural language processing to recommend tags, auto tag content added to this system and recommend related content. We spoke to an early GroupSwim customer yesterday who just raved about the system’s ability to auto-categorize emails and other docs, making it easier to get content into the system in an organized way and to find content on particular topic or customer account (this customer is using the service as a collab tool for sales and marketing).

Applying this sort of text analysis in a group collaboration / social software tool isn’t something I’ve heard much about lately. It will be this sort of thing that will differentiate vendors from the increasingly large pack moving forward. GroupSwim is still tiny and with its service not generally available until this past December, it’s perhaps a little late to this party. It will need to ramp up its own sales and marketing efforts significantly — 451 group clients can expect a full write up on GroupSwim in the coming days.

Social enterprise software isn’t an oxymoron — but it’s also not a market

Fred Wilson has an interesting post about whether or not there is an enterprise market for social software. He acknowledges that some products, particularly wikis, are doing well but questions the fundamental value of social software in enterprise communities that are “hobbled by the needs of the enterprise and cannot get that magical lift that an unbounded community provides.”

I think there are a couple of ways to look at this. Yes, on the public web, the “2.0” changes are pronounced due to the masses that can participate. Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and even Google don’t make much sense without the explicit and implicit contributions of users and this has been a fundamental shift from Web 1.0. Everyone agrees on that point, I think.

But that doesn’t mean social technologies don’t have a role to play in enterprise apps as well. Is Enterprise 2.0 a market? Not really. That doesn’t mean I don’t use the phrase ‘social software market.’ But it’s a bit of a catch-all. There are business problems, processes, applications that can and will become more social, the way these apps look, feel and work is evolving. And there are new and old vendors that are enabling that change.

I think where this will the biggest impact in the enterprise is in outwardly facing initiatives – web sites that become more two-way, user communities, more self-service and open product development processes. This is the biggest fundamental shift from the way these sites, processes, apps worked in the past. And that’s probably why this part of the market is mostly populated by start-ups and smaller companies at the moment.

Inside-the-firewall social software is simply an evolution of existing collaboration technologies – some of the social software suites on the market really aren’t hugely different from team collaboration products from a decade ago. Yes, there are different features, yes there is open tagging as opposed to structured taxonomies, yes there is blogging and so forth. But in the grand scheme of things, new features don’t equal a revolution — or a market.

This explains why the vendors that are likely to equip the most enterprises with inside-the-firewall social software are the same vendors that have been selling collaboration software for ages: Microsoft and IBM. As SharePoint gets better social networking, improved wikis and blogs, and perhaps, if we’re lucky, improved RSS support in the next release, it will become the de facto “enterprise social software” tool for all those many organizations using SharePoint. IBM will stay in the fight with Lotus Connections and Lotus Quickr, though it will likely be hard to stop the SharePoint juggernaut.

IWOV and VIGN: A tale of two earnings calls

Interwoven and Vignette both released Q1 numbers in the last two days and their numbers highlight the different paths these long-time competitors are now on.

Vignette announced disappointing results. Vignette’s total revenue for the quarter was $44.8 million, a 6% decrease from Q1 2007, with a net loss of $0.8 million, compared with a $4.8m profit a year ago. Particularly disappointing for Vignette was license revenue which declined 36% to $9.7m. Vignette warned three weeks its results would be weaker than expected so the news wasn’t a surprise but the mood of the call was still somber.

Interwoven, on the other hand, announced a 17% increase in revenue to $61.5m with a 12% increase in license revenue and net income of $6.1m. Interwoven has always been a fairly conservative company but even so, one of the execs on the call said something along the lines of “we’re not claiming our earnings are recession proof but…” They were downright cheerful — and with good reason.

Emergent systems and WCM

I’ve noted before that I sort of wear two hats at The 451 Group, covering both content management and collaborative technologies. They’re related surely and perhaps more so every day, but traditionally have been rather separate. In any event, I have the benefit of looking at most things through (at least) two sets of lenses and am not so far in the weeds in one market that I miss related implications.

For example, Infovark has an interesting post about emergent systems and as I was looking specifically at their table, it struck me how much their definition of “explicit” (rules-based, top down, centralized, push) defines what most WCM vendors are trying to do today with targeted content delivery. But “emergent” technologies are the opposite (outcome-based, bottom up, decentralized, pull).

In short, it’s the difference between content targeting and user-generated content. There seems to me to be a real gap between those vendors doing the former and those supporting the latter.

We’ve been spending a lot of time with vendors in the customer community realm of late, while still keeping a close eye on WCM marketplace. The relationship between these two seems quite obvious to me, though we’re only starting to see bits of it in the market. There is some partnering going on and at least one OEM I know of though have been asked not to publicize yet. I suspect we’ll see more of this in the coming months.

Microsoft & FAST to exchange rings this week

Well, that’s one of those pesky search acquisitions sorted out anyway.

Microsoft and Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) will consummate (their words, not mine) the acquisition on Thursday (April 24) now that the conditions of the acquisition have been met, according to this. FAST has had the requisite number of shares tendered since February. The time since then has been spent clearing the regulatory hurdles.

I’d grown quite attached to those Oslo Stock Exchange announcements as they provided FAST-watchers like me with a a running commentary on FAST’s progress, listing each major customer win as they happened, along with a whole lot of other stuff, including last year’s major stumble.

The new chapter of Microsoft’s enterprise search business starts this week, which is good timing for us, as I’m speaking with them next week.

Text analysis + content management = insight

We have long wondered why more content management vendors don’t fully embrace text analysis (or even enterprise search for that matter).

These guardians of most organizations unstructured data were beaten to the punch in terms of exploiting text by business intelligence companies, which are more accustomed to manipulating structured data. It’s great that the BI companies are starting (slowly) to embrace the idea of unlocking the value locked within unstructured text, it’s somewhat bizarre why content management vendors didn’t get there first.

We said this many years ago, in the most coherent form in mid 2005 with our report called Text-aware applications: the endgame for unstructured data (the clue’s in the title).

In report that we said:

“…while the penetration of content management systems is relatively high when compared with other ways of managing unstructured data, these systems do little at present to help analyze that unstructured data.”

and somewhat optimistically:

“Indeed, despite the CMS’s [content management systems] ability to organize, most implementations rarely attempt to push into anything that could be considered a semantic understanding of the content. This may be set to change, however, with some vendors, such as EMC, making headway in automatically parsing documents at a deeper level than just file-level metadata.”

That was a tad premature on our part.

Think about the main players and what they do to understand what resides in the documents they ‘manage.’

EMC Documentum – it has its content intelligence services classification engine sure, and it bought a federated search product many moons ago, but neither are exactly front and central to its product strategy. And ILM (try searching on that now at EMC and see what you get) only dealt with file-level metadata, not semantic metadata. However the X-Hive acquisition was an interesting one from this standpoint (see below for more on XML databases).

Vignette – bar an OEM relationship with Autonomy (which most vendors have) nothing much doing here despite the need for Web content management to increase its understanding of the text its managing to make websites more attractive to advertisers (think of using text analysis to build links to other content automatically to keep visitors on the site longer).

Interwoven – Metatagger isn’t exactly at the bleeding edge any more, although the idea is sound.

IBM Filenet – here there is hope. IBM has taken a classifier it got from its iPhrase acquisition and used it to do initial classification to help determine what should or should not be deemed a record. IBM has all sorts of text analysis toys to play with and we expect more from it in the future.

Open Text – it once had five search engines, and was a pioneer in that space. But I’m not aware of anything it does to extract meaning from the content it manages.

Autonomy – Its tagline is ‘Meaning-based computing.’ It owns a powerful classification engine but now also owns records management and a bunch of other stuff. It’s the one company that checks most of the boxes here (but isn’t a document or Web content management vendor). But as the company currently refuses to talk to us, we’re in the dark as to which bit fits where and are unable to tell our clients what benefits Autonomy could bring them as a result. If the company cares to get in touch with me, I’m here.

This post was prompted partly by a recent conversation I had with Nstein . It is morphing from being a struggling text analysis vendor laden with debt (it’s publicly traded in Canada, so the numbers don’t lie) to a fast-growing combination of Web content management, digital asset management (via acquisitions in 2006 and 2007) and text analysis, built atop an XML database licensed from IxiaSoft. Its focusing exclusively on the largest publishing companies, using the text analysis to automatically create links between new and archived content (thus pushing it up Google rankings). It competes with Mark Logic and Interwoven, mainly.

Any Gmail user that looks in their spam folder and see ads for “Spam Swiss Pie – Bake 45-55 minutes or until eggs are set,” can appreciate how crude keyword matching against content is next to useless.

There’s so much more that can be done here and so much insight being left on the table, whether it be in better website management to attract readers, voice of the customer analysis tied to BI, or government intelligence.

Tools that manage content need to understand that content – its language, its meaning, its sentiment. Otherwise, they are missing a trick.

A plethora of customer community software and service providers

When I started picking up our coverage of the social software market about 18 months ago, I focused mostly on the bigger names, keeping tabs on what the likes of IBM and Microsoft are doing in social software. I also got up to speed on many of the point tools for wikis, blogs and bookmarking.

More recently, and especially since Anne Nielsen joined us as a research associate recently, we’ve been looking more at software and services for customer-facing communities.

Many of the companies in this area come from backgrounds in customer support or forums software, though there are some new start-ups here as well. There’s a lot of SaaS in this sector and these are sometimes these are called ‘white-label’ social networking providers, to differentiate from social networking sites like Facebook or even Ning.

What we’re most interested in is how and what these vendors or SaaS providers sell to enterprises that want to deploy communities for customer support and/or marketing. The following is a list of the vendors we’re currently tracking in this market. I’m sure this isn’t comprehensive as there are a lot of providers out there that fit into this market in some way.

Awareness – formerly known as iUpload, Awareness got its start in blogging services and citizen-run journalism sites and has since expanded its SaaS offering to include more services.

Communispace – haven’t met with this company yet but, founded in 1999, comes from the community management realm.

HiveLive – start-up that added $5.6m in VC funding in February. Offers a SaaS platform where ‘hives’ or communities can be customized to include different functions.

Jive Software – just revved its product and renamed the version specifically for external communities to Clearspace Community. Jive Forums is a popular forums software package for developer and support sites.

KickApps – sells mostly to media companies, a SaaS offering to let users network around a particular media property. CEO Alex Blum is an ex-AOLer and has been rumored to be in acquisition talks with AOL.

Leverage Software – another from the community management realm, we’re scheduled to update coverage on this company in the coming weeks.

Lithium Technologies – spin-off from gaming company Gamers.com in 2001, Lithium has built a fairly impressive customer list, mostly running customer support sites. Took a $9m Series A a year ago.

Prospero – has a long history in community software, dating back to the forum software used by Delphi Internet in the early 1990s. Prospero itself was formed in 2000 and acquired by Mzinga earlier this year.

Pluckacquired by Demand Media in March, Pluck has mostly served media companies but the focus has been expanding.

Ringside Networks – brand-new start-up with a ‘social application server‘ in beta. founded by ex-JBoss and Bluestone Software execs so it’s definitely a middlware-based approach.

Telligent – founded in 2004 by ex-Microsoft folks, the Telligent Community Server is used more for external communities but has intranet customers as well.

WetPaint – hosts free consumer wikis but has been getting more into branded wiki sites (i.e., not white label) for companies, like this one for HP.

Our coverage map of companies in this area is a work in progress and is an area we’ll be focusing on a lot in the coming months. We would love to hear who else should be on it.

Is the portal the application?

This is a question I remember tossing around eight or nine years ago when I was an analyst tracking the enterprise portal market at Giga Information Group.

Those from the application integration world tended to see portals as empty frameworks (with authentication and customization services) into which apps or data sources could be plugged. But those (like me) that came from from the search and information access world saw a portal as encompassing more functionality in and of itself for collaboration, search and information access. So is the portal an entry point or a destination?

This question hasn’t reared its head in awhile since portal products were mostly subsumed into the application platforms of IBM, BEA and Oracle — as pretty generic portal frameworks. Even SAP’s portal has been mostly a UI to SAP’s apps as opposed to one itself.

But with the advent of social computing, the question seems to be returning. I met with open source portal play Liferay this week, a vendor that is busy adding social software capabilities to its portal. Liferay notes many customers, particularly in Europe, still looking for traditional portal framework capabilities, for the portal to serve as an aggregation point for accessing other apps.

Here in the US, Liferay is seeing more requests for integrated collaboration capabilities, like profiles, wikis, blogs and discussion forums, that are delivered to end users in the portal itself. The company is even toying with out how best to refer to its product in this new world. Is it still a portal?

Liferay isn’t the only portal vendor taking such steps. The BEA AquaLogic User Interaction group (the horribly named result of BEA’s 2005 Plumtree acquisition) has been busy adding social capabilities as well, packaged up in a new 6.5 release announced this week. It’s hard to know what to make of this, given the Oracle acquisitionMike Gotta goes so far as to ask “Should I Pay Attention to BEA?” and Janus Boye is equally pessimistic about the prospects for BEA’s two portal products. But the AquaLogic group has done a nice job enhancing that portal and Pathways is one of the only enterprise tagging tools on the market (Connectbeam has another).

BEA’s portals aren’t likely to fair well post acquisition because Oracle already has two of its own. But Oracle WebCenter is the one getting the social software enhancements and the one likely to be Oracle’s main pick going forward. SAP and Microsoft are others making portals more social.

What will be interesting to watch is how these portal-based approaches make out in the nascent market for enterprise social software. They’re potentially up against SaaS offerings and on-premise tools that don’t require the portal overhead.

A good example of this is the Clearspace product from Jive Software, which also revved this week to a 2.0 version (and incidentally added customizable start pages to which users can add widgets…sound like the start of a portal?). With these new products, are we eliminating the services of the portal framework – authentication/single sign-on, customization, integration? Or maybe just the portal name?

Recent ECM (and/or) SharePoint links

It’s been a long week in the Reidy household…coughing, pink eye…anyone with little kids knows the drill. I’m finally catching up on some feed reading and there’s been some interesting dialogue this week about SharePoint. Is it possible to post about content management or social software these days without involving SharePoint?

Bridging the “storage-information” gap

When Nick first unveiled this blog last month he rightly noted ‘storage’ as one of the many categories that falls into a capacious bucket we term ‘information management.’ With this in mind he reminded me that it would be appropriate for the 451 Group’s storage research team to contribute to the debate, so here it is!

For the uninitiated, storage can appear to be either a bit of a black hole, or just a lot of spinning rust, so I’m not going to start with a storage 101 (although if you have a 451 password you can peruse our recent research here). Suffice to say that storage is just one element of the information management infrastructure, but its role is certainly evolving.

Storage systems and associated software traditionally have provided applications and users with the data they need, when they need it, along with the required levels of protection. Clearly, storage has had to become smarter (not to mention cheaper) to deal with issues like data growth; technologies such as data deduplication help firms grapple with the “too much” part of information management. But up until now the lines of demarcation between “storage” (and data management) and “information” management have been fairly clear. Even though larger “portfolio” vendors such as EMC and IBM have feet in both camps, the reality is that such products and services are organized, managed and sold separately.

That said, there’s no doubt these worlds are coming together. The issues we as analysts are grappling with relate to where and why this taking place, how it manifests itself, the role of technology, and the impact of this on vendor, investor and end-user strategies. At the very least there is a demand for technologies that help organizations bridge the gap – and the juxtaposition – between the fairly closeted, back-end storage “silo” and the more, shall we say, liberated, front-end interface where information meets its consumers.

Here, a number of competing forces are challenging, even forcing, organizations to become smarter about understanding what “information” they have in their storage infrastructure; data retention vs data disposition, regulated vs unregulated data and public vs private data being just three. Armed with such intelligence, firms can, in theory, make better decisions about how (and how long) data is stored, protected, retained and made available to support changing business requirements.

“Hang on a minute,” I hear you cry. “Isn’t this what Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) was supposed to be about?” Well, yes, I’m afraid it was. And one thing that covering the storage industry for almost a decade has told me is that it moves at a glacial pace. In the case of ILM, the iceberg has probably lapped it by now. The hows and whys of ILM’s failure to capture the imagination of the industry is probably best left for another day, but I believe that at least one aim of ILM – helping organizations better understand their data so it can better support the business — still makes perfect sense.

What we are now seeing is the emergence of some real business drivers that are compelling a variety of stakeholders – from CIOs to General Counsel — to take an active interest in better understanding their data. This, in turn, is driving industry consolidation as larger vendors in particular move to fill out their product portfolios; the latest example of this is the news of HP’s acquisition of Australia-based records management specialist Tower Software. Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring in more detail three areas where we think this storage-information gap is being bridged; in eDiscovery, archiving and security. Stay tuned for our deeper thoughts and perspectives in this fast-moving space.