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.



#1 Matthew Rhodes on 04.16.08 at 5:39 am

Hello there,

I feel I should selflessly promote my own, UK-based, firm to this list: FreshNetworks.

Web: http://www.freshnetworks.com
Blog: blog.freshnetworks.com

We build and manage online communities to build stronger engagement with customers or stakeholders. They help you get a deeper understanding of customers needs, drive innovation and build advocacy for your brand.

We are a new division of FreshMinds (www.freshminds.co.uk), a innovative and provocative research firm in London – named Best Agency in the UK for the last two years running and one of the fastest growing firms in our industry in Europe.

Self promotion over! If anybody wants to know any more then do look at our site / blog – or get in touch.

#2 Jason Rothbart on 04.16.08 at 11:39 am

Please check out GroupSwim. We offer a SaaS Social Collaboration solution for the Small Medium Enterprise (SME) market. One of our products is a customer facing forum that you can easily embed inside an existing portal or website. What makes our solution unique is the semantic technology we use. As customers add questions, best practices, or documents, we automatically tag the content, rate it based on the group’s reaction to it, and identify experts automatically based on the relationship between the content, the contributer, and the content rating. The result of this technology is a knowledge rich forum that makes it extremely easy for people to use and find the information they want or might be interested in. Thanks for the opportunity to describe our solution. I’m happy to answer any questions.



#3 Pete Comley on 04.22.08 at 4:48 am

Agree with comment from Freshminds. This list ignores non US based suppliers. Like Freshminds, Virtual Surveys run and host bespoke online research communities for their clients. We have published many papers on these at recent conferences eg for ones with British Airways, BBC, United Biscuits, etc.

Pete Comley

#4 Emergent systems and WCM — Too much information on 04.23.08 at 8:58 pm

[…] 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 […]

#5 Aaron Strout on 04.28.08 at 9:45 am

Thanks for your mention of Mzinga and Prospero in your recent post. I wanted to shed a little more light on Mzinga and its enterprise offering for customer-facing communities.

Mzinga builds, manages, and moderates online communities for large enterprises – helping them engage and listen to their customers and drive future innovation. An innovative medium for customer feedback and pain points, online communities have proven to be the most effective way for businesses to tap into the mindset of their customer and gain a much deeper look into their needs.

Mzinga’s Software-as-a-Service technology platform provides a suite of social media applications, flexible integration options, and enterprise-grade moderation capabilities for control of user-generated content. Using “widget” technology, one or more social media elements may be embedded into a customer’s website, while template functionality can be used to create private-label community destination sites. Customers also have the option of crafting their own look and feel, and integrating social media features via API into their webpages or other applications. We work with companies such as FOX, American Express, iRise, ESPN, iVillage, Chevron, and Johnson & Johnson. All of these companies use Mzinga’s intranet and wiki tools.

Best, Aaron (@astrout)
VP New Media

#6 Social enterprise software isn’t an oxymoron — but it’s also not a market — Too much information on 04.29.08 at 10:53 am

[…] 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 […]

#7 GroupSwim: text analysis meets collaboration — Too much information on 04.30.08 at 9:03 am

[…] blog post led us to GroupSwim, a company we met with the other day. I found GroupSwim to be a particularly […]

#8 Mike Walsh on 05.20.08 at 9:39 pm

Thanks for the recent interview and report. We’re pleased to deliver our customer, partner, member and employee community solutions as a SaaS – much like Salesforce.com. This allows our clients to evaluate a community and test their thesis and goals for as little as $15,000. We believe, like Salesforce.com, that everyone wins when we have to earn our clients business every single month.

Wells Fargo, Salesforce.com, TimeWarner, FrontRange, American Bar Association, Microsoft, Callidus; among others seem to like the model and the solution. As we discussed, we also provide full strategic and moderation services if required.

I hope that you enjoyed the call.



#9 Vivek on 08.31.09 at 7:37 am


Kindly check out Communifire, our unique social networking product, built completely in ASP.NET:




#10 Vivek on 08.31.09 at 7:38 am

Edited: there was a typo in the link above


Kindly check out Communifire, our unique social networking product, built completely in ASP.NET:




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