Entries Tagged 'Collaboration' ↓

Ringside Networks down for the count

CEO of Ringside Networks Bob Bickel reported on his blog last week that the company is ‘winding down’ and that those involved with the company would ‘move forward.’ The company’s website is still live and an inquiry as to whether or not the company has officially ceased operations has not yet been answered. But it appears that the start-up, which had planned an open source ‘social application server,’ is done. Bickel blames the company’s outcome on distraction due to potential acquisition by a ‘non-evil’ company — he provides some interesting detail, it’s worth a read.

We profiled the company back in April at the time of its fairly high-profile launch (451 Group clients can see that profile here). Its plan, to enable site owners to create mini-apps that would integrate with public social networks like Facebook, seemed a good one and its management team, mostly ex-JBoss and Bluestone Software execs, was certainly experienced.  Our best wishes to Bob and the others involved — I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ve heard from these guys or, probably, of this software.

This is the second recent enterprise open source social software / collab failure that pops to mind.  I also profiled German start-up Mindquarry last year (here for clients) that had some slick open source team collaboration software with all the social bells and whistles.  It also failed to get sufficient funding and the company founders eventually joined Day Software to develop the (proprietary) social software components of its Web content management line.

Update 9/30/2008 – Bob Bickel wrote to let me know that details on company operations are still be sorted out.  The Ringside open source code is still available on Sourceforge and will continue to be.

Oracle continues to build collaboration

It’s hard for me to get excited about email.  Luckily for me, here at The 451 Group, we focus on emerging areas of the technology market or sectors where there is particular innovation or disruption.  And none of that much describes the email market.  I have looked at some of the vendors doing interesting things here (like Zimbra and Open-Xchange) and I had met once with PostPath before Cisco grabbed it a few weeks ago.  But even though I cover collaboration, I’m not down in the weeds with  “groupware” everyday.

So an announcement from Oracle that it has spent the last three years building a new collaboration suite, to replace Oracle Collaboration Suite (which hadn’t exactly taken the market by storm), doesn’t get me all revved up.  There’s lots of content out there on Beehive, from InformationWeek and CNET for example, so I won’t rehash all the details.  I know it’s about more than email and there’s a lot there that technically makes sense — its focus on security and compliance, scalability, integration with Outlook and the Zimbra web client, support for CalDAV and so on.

But it is not going to be an easy fight for Oracle in this market, to be sure, no matter how badly Oracle wants a piece of the collaboration market.  How many companies — others than OCS customers that are now stuck with a dead product — are going to move to a brand-new collab product?  I didn’t find any of the use cases Oracle described during their pre-brief all that compelling.

I wonder why Oracle, which obviously has no hesitation about buying into markets where it wants to be a major player, hasn’t acquired collab technology?  In the related content management market, Oracle made several attempts to market a database-driven content management system, mostly based on its ContentDB product and until it ultimately, purchased Stellent for $440m in 2006.  This strategy seems to be going well for Oracle (451 Group clients can read a more detailed write-up from a few months ago on Oracle’s progress in the content management market) and the company upped its investment by purchasing Captovation for document capture in January and Skywire Software for output (though this one was really more about insurance apps).

I understand that Oracle can’t go out and acquire the biggest competitor to Microsoft Exchange (that would IBM Lotus) and collab that ties closely to its apps is a high priority for Oracle, so building maybe made the most sense.  Still, there are other models for disruption – Yahoo! is looking at a different market segment with Zimbra and Cisco is planning its SaaS strategy with PostPath.  Those vendors both see Google Apps as the potential disrupter to the Exchange / SharePoint powerhouse and are looking to take a piece of that action before Google has it tied up.

I’m maybe not quite as a pessimistic as Matt Cain over at Gartner (his assessment doesn’t pull any punches).  I was part of a briefing with Matt once (back in his Meta Group days) when I was a product manager at Sun, on the integration between Sun’s portal server and collaboration products (email/calendar).  It was a half-baked integration with a lot of marketing fluff and Matt called us on it bluntly and accurately.  In saying Beehive is unlikely to be any more successful than [Oracle’s] past efforts, he does the same.

Microsoft vs. IBM

The first tutorial this morning at The Enterprise 2.0 show here in Boston was Social Computing Platforms: IBM and Microsoft. It was a duel of demos, not as open or back-and-forth a discussion as I’d hoped. But the general concession during the event and in the hallways afterwards was that Microsoft was showed up by IBM…thoroughly.

The Lotus demo was first. Lotus Connections is just coming out in version 2.0 and has a fairly complete set of capabilities for social networking, bookmarking, tagging, communities and blogging. The UI is clean and modern and the presenter, Suzanne Minnassian, did a great job sticking with her user scenario and showing how Connections can be used.

Then there was SharePoint. Microsoft SharePoint is of course lots of things – it’s a basic ECM product, it’s a portal and it has some nascent social computing features. But this demo was only to focus on those features, and they’re really not competition for Lotus Connections at this point. And just how nascent these features are was clearly evident this morning, in a demo that also included partner technologies and open source code. It was too technical and showed how difficult SharePoint can be to configure.

To be fair, comparing SharePoint and Connections is really not comparing apples to apples. SharePoint hasn’t reached the level of market penetration it has because of its social software features. Microsoft positions SharePoint as a platform and that partner technologies work better to customize it for specific verticals. There’s some truth to this, but the story will no doubt change as SharePoint gets more social in future releases.

I met with a Rob Curry, a product manager for SharePoint, this afternoon. He wouldn’t comment on specifics in the SharePoint road map but we can be pretty sure that the next version, expected as part of Office 14 late in 2009, will go much further down the social softwar path. In the meantime, SharePoint is still a juggernaut. Can IBM make some hay with its social software lead to stop that?

Social software at EMC World

Some public disclosure finally about where EMC is headed in social software & collaboration from EMC followers Marko Sillanpaa and Laurence Hart both currently attending this week’s EMC World in Vegas.

EMC Documentum Will Not Go Quietly Into that Dark Night

“Finally a UI that is as clean and simple as Alfresco and SharePoint and a bonus that it’s as sexy as an iPhone.”

EMC World 2008: Introduction to EMC’s Next-Generation Knowledge Worker Client

“The vision: – Web 2.0 Client – Information Intelligence – Anywhere AccessWeb 2.0 Platform”

Oracle readies dedicated 2.0 sales force

Oracle’s president Charles Phillips was in London today hosting a discussion on Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0. Amongst a discussion that Dennis Howlett rightly categorizes as “interesting but not earth shattering” probably the most interesting news was that Oracle is in the process of setting up a dedicated Enterprise 2.0 sales force.

The new sales force will swing into action at the beginning of Oracle’s next financial year in June and will be tasked with turning customer interest in, and understanding of, the potential benefits of collaboration into working projects.

Duplicated across Oracle’s regions and reporting to the regional head, the Enterprise 2.0 sales team lead with the WebCenter platform for composite applications, as well as more traditional software products such as Oracle Portal and what was formerly Stellent content management software. Oracle’s Beehive next-generation collaboration platform will also be in the mix, although Charles was less forthcoming about the details of the new enterprise collaboration product.

What he did say is that the Enterprise 2.0 sales force will be made up of both BEA and Oracle sales and consulting experts and will make use of the Oracle Insight Program consulting service to analyze customers’ business processes to identify opportunities for the deployment of internal and external collaborative applications \.

The sales force will engage with both business and IT managers and will have an eye on enabling enterprise-wide strategic adoption of collaborative software, although most of the obvious opportunities are likely to be departmental or focused on specific applications – such as CRM and SCM.

Charles Phillips noted that there is customer interest in Enterprise 2.0, but that a lot of education is still required to turn that into deployments. He said the question he asked customers is “are there groups of people you’d like to collaborate with more easily?”

Given that most companies are interested in the views of their customers and uncovering unfulfilled demand, the answer to that is invariably “yes”, but then the conversation has to move on to identifying business processes that can make use of collaborative technologies and examining use cases. That will be the role of the new sales force.

With customer deployments thin on the ground Charles also shared some details of how Oracle is making use of collaborative technologies. The company is currently working on a new collaborative environment for training partners on its product stack, for example, in recognition that given Oracle’s rapid rate of acquisitions it is difficult and expensive for partners to keep up to date – and difficult and expensive for Oracle to keep its partners up to date.

On the developer side there’s Oracle Mix, which sees the company extending its collaboration with the developer and user communities beyond its user trade shows, and providing an environment where it can quickly respond to customer feedback. Oracle is also using collaborative technologies within its internal developer and sales organizations to make it easier for employees to identify experts and expertise with the organization.

Kathleen recently noted that social enterprise or Enterprise 2.0 software is not a market in and of itself and that the market for internal applications is likely to be dominated by IBM and Microsoft given their dominance in traditional collaboration software. If Oracle is to crack this market, it probably does need to be more proactive about taking the Enterprise 2.0 message to existing and potential customers.

If we assume that Enterprise 2.0 is not a market, then a dedicated Enterprise 2.0 sales force is probably not a long-term strategy. In terms of identifying new collaborative application opportunities the market and pointing customers in the right direction, it does make sense, however.

What did come across in the conversation is that this is designed to be a practical and pragmatic approach that will hand-hold customers into Enterprise 2.0 adoption, rather than just slapping some 2.0 t-shirts on the sales team and sending them off on the back of the bandwagon.

Social software is getting more…social?

We’ve been busy lately increasing our coverage of social software vendors. In the last few weeks we’ve spoken with: Awareness, CollectiveX, Communispace, GroupSwim, HiveLive, Jive Software, Leverage Software, Lithium Technologies, Ringside Networks, Socialtext, Telligent Systems, and Wetpaint. Some of these meetings were triggered by new product launches and others were initiated by us, reaching out to begin coverage of vendors we hadn’t spoken with before. Most (but probably not all) of these have or will soon result in new or updated 451 coverage.

That’s quite a list and it’s only a list of who we’ve spoken with recently, not of all the vendors in this market and it doesn’t happen to include any of the larger players like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle.

So you have to ask, where is the differentiation? I don’t think that’s clear yet. Vendors are coming at this market from a particular area — like forums software or wikis — and tend to be targeting a particular types of implementations (BtoC social media vs. BtoE collaboration) so theoretically competitive products can be quite different under the covers (though often quite similar in marketing).

One thing that seems clear is that many vendors already in the social software realm are busy getting more social. By this I mean grafting on “social” aspects a la Facebook. This can be the ability to have user profiles and the ability to friend people or more sophisticated analysis of who knows what in order to connect users with similar knowledge or expertise.

Just a few recent examples:

Jive Software’s 2.0 release beefs up profiling and social networking capabilties.

The 3.0 release from Socialtext does the same.

Telligent added the ability to track activity data by user in Community Server 2008.

Wetpaint also added more social aspects recently.

Leverage Software has some interesting visualization technology applied to social networks.

Ringside wants to link public networks to business networks.

As vendors originally strong in wikis or forums software, for example, expand social networking and add other features, they’re much more in competition with each other than they once were. And organizations are likely to want to standardize to avoid profile proliferation, if nothing else.

I was talking with someone this morning about how many log-ins one large broadcaster has for its various customer/consumer communities (wikis, message boards etc.) and how it’s a high priority item for that company to fix it. That’s something we’ll no doubt hear more about as more and more products go social.



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.

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.

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.