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.