From Facebook to MySpace, social networking sites in the consumer market have grown immensely, but these sites aren't just for teenagers and college students anymore. Businesses are seeing the full benefit of keeping their employees connected by turning their intranet sites into social networks.
Enter NewsGator Technologies, which on June 9th released Social Sites 2.0, an upgraded version of its social computing solution for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. Social Sites 2.0 offers enhanced capabilities to help businesses and their employees collaborate and discover information.
Originally conceived with a focus on distributing RSS feeds, NewsGator eventually extended its reach to include online sites and additional products. Two and a half years ago, the company launched an enterprise server product and started offering it to major brands and media sites. This grew into the NewsGator Widget, which was targeted at news companies that use an online platform to pull in content in widget form.
Just nine months ago, Microsoft indicated that Sharepoint could benefit from improved social networking capabilities. NewGator immediately took the lead and focused on using a social site to make Sharepoint more dynamic and relevant to businesses. "Sharepoint, as a product, has tremendous penetration, but doesn't do a lot of things really well," says Brian Kellner, VP of products for NewsGator. "It has the ability to read RSS built-in, but only lets you bring in one feed and can't tag or save. In contrast, we'll bring in a collection of feeds, collect attention data, add tags, allow people to share them with others easily, and build tag shares."
With Social Sites 2.0, users can organize their own information as well as create a dynamic public profile. They can add other colleagues to their profiles and exchange information through real time updates, feed recommendations, and keyword cloud tags. Users can also see personal information, such as birthdays and status updates. These features permit users to discover information easily and quickly move through content. One intriguing feature of Social Sites 2.0 is the mini-profile. Users can preview a colleague’s profile by mousing over a link to the profile. Up pops a thumbnail view of the full profile, which shows their photo and lists a bit of basic information.
The community section allows any user to create a new community group around common interests, areas of research, and projects. "The community portion of the site lets people collaborate around content. This can be done easily with a couple of clicks and they can be off and running together," says Laura Farrelly, Director of Marketing for NewsGator. Users can add tags to a community, which, when clicked, show a list of other communities with related tags that may be of interest. Important content can also be marked in red, assuring that information is up to date. Social Sites 2.0 is fully integrated with email, which allows users to participate in group discussions and their communities without having to log on to the site.
In addition to these enhancements, users can receive customized recommendations—such as colleague recommendations, news, tag clouds, search, and lists of recently created and popular communities—all of which are chosen based on the user’s portal activity and behavior. Users can also get a graphic visualization of their social network and see their closest connection based on intranet activity, common interests, and content.
"Partners and customers on the outside want to bring in and participate in the right types of communities. Peoples lives are both inside and outside," says Kellner. The success of social networking in consumer spaces has sparked a desire to apply this achievement in an enterprise setting. Says Farrelly: "Social Sites 2.0 turns into a more engaging environment. People are discovering employees and getting their questions answered. They find it worthwhile."