Microsoft confirmed rumors that it has been developing a Facebook-like platform for the enterprise known as TownSquare, according to a report by Computerworld. While it’s not hard to imagine how Microsoft could incorporate it into the SharePoint platform, a lot of its success will depend on how companies utilize enterprise social networks moving forward.
For now, TownSquare is "not a product" yet and has only been used internally by Microsoft. But if it's as good as it sounds, they should consider speeding its development and add it to SharePoint (and MySites, the platform's out of the box social networking tool) right away.
It’s been hard to get a measure on how successful enterprise social networks have been in general. Both Microsoft (with its MySites in Sharepoint) and IBM (with its profiles in Lotus Connections) have claimed heavy user adoption of the social networking features in their respective products. Startup enterprise 2.0 vendors have also been tailoring their offerings to include a social networking feature as well.
Though there have been use-cases of enterprise social networks taking off, such as those displayed by SharePoint customers Wachovia and Lockheed Martin last week at the Enterprise 2.0 conference, some have been skeptical about overall adoption by organizations so far.
The reasons? For one, they don’t engage users enough to effectively compete for their time with consumer social networks (that's assuming sites such as MySpace and Facebook are not banned at work). Secondly, many enterprise social networks have stalled due to an inability to populate them with anything other than static information from an HR database such as name, title and basic contact information.
The third is simply look and feel.
The good thing about TownSquare could be that it’s believed to use a lot of the same design features as Facebook. The importance of a strong user interface when it comes to social networking cannot be overstated, especially when SharePoint has been criticized (including by this reporter) as not always having the prettiest look at the front end of its social tools.
According to Computerworld, TownSquare would help provide users with context for what their colleagues are doing by utilizing a mini-feed (which, next to "friends," is basically the most important feature about Facebook and what makes it powerful). The feed enables serendipitous discovery by having information flow to the user, who then can choose to interact with it or let it stream on by.
People engage with corporate tools more seamlessly if they remind them of their experience in the consumer space. Perhaps if the Facebook-like TownSquare is brought into the SharePoint fold, companies will enjoy the kind of productivity upticks from enterprise social networking that we hope they can.