Microsoft became decidedly more social with SharePoint 2010, adding social networking tools like improved wiki and blog integration, tagging and microblogging into its SharePoint MySites feature.
As the social Web extends beyond Twitter and Facebook and into businesses, many enterprise-level companies are changing their cultures and focusing on improving communication, sharing information and connecting global workforces through social media.
Microsoft is not the only one integrating social networking features into its flagship products, of course. Big-name rivals IBM, Cisco, Google and Salesforce.com (currently countersuing Microsoft for patent infringement) want to grab their pieces of the enterprise 2.0 pie.
These social networking and collaboration competitors will aim to differentiate themselves from SharePoint, which has the advantage of being a widely-used part of the established Microsoft ecosystem, says Forrester principal analyst Rob Koplowitz.
"SharePoint 2010 now includes more social capabilities, and the value for many businesses is that it's also included with an existing, highly-integrated platform. For many organizations, that will be the right direction," he says.
Here's a rundown of the four biggest-name competitors that hope SharePoint is the wrong direction for enterprises, at least for social networking.
IBM Lotus Connections
Lotus Connections is IBM's social networking software for businesses. Like every platform in the enterprise 2.0 space, IBM's goal with Connections is to help companies unite workers, partners and customers through online social tools that anyone who uses Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging will recognize.
Connections' user interface resembles other social networking sites from Microsoft (SharePoint MySites), Cisco's Quad and Google Buzz with its profile pages, communities, activity feeds, document posting and sharing, blogs, and wikis.
IBM has a cloud-based version of Connections through its LotusLive online productivity suite, called LotusLive Connections, that has fewer features but costs significantly less (starting at $6 per month, per user) than the on-premise version, which entails servers and licenses. Click here for a breakdown of the pricing difference between Lotus and LotusLive Connections.
Though the Lotus ecosystem is not as prevalent in enterprises as that of Office/SharePoint, Lotus and LotusLive Connections have advantages over SharePoint, says Koplowitz. These advantages include being built on open standards and being a dedicated platform that is not dependent on the larger Lotus platform, the way that SharePoint depends on Office, he says.
"IBM is taking a much more modular approach with Lotus Connections that will allow the company to update more quickly and aggressively than Microsoft, which has taken a broad integrated suite approach," says Koplowitz.
For Microsoft Outlook customers who want to use Lotus Connections, there's a plug-in to integrate Outlook mail activity with Connections services.
Cisco has set its sights on SharePoint, Lotus Connectrions and Google with Quad, Cisco's aggressive venture into social networking and collaboration.
The Web-based Quad, named after a quad on a college campus, will set itself apart from Microsoft by integrating its unified communications tools like VoIP, video and WebEx Connect presence tools into a social networking site locked together with enterprise-level policy and security controls. Cisco plans a summer release.
A demo of Cisco Quad at this month's Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston.
Quad's interface is constructed around a main customizable landing page (My View), individual profile pages (My Profiles) and Communities pages where groups within a company can collaborate. On the right side of the page lies access to your calendar, as well as Cisco's real-time communications tools such as voice, IM and video conferencing. It's a tightly-integrated Web-based platform that can be accessed on any Internet-based PC outfitted with a camera and a microphone. No client software is required.
Quad looks easy to use for anyone who's ever used Facebook, and like Lotus Connections, Quad is built on open architecture, so it integrates with other systems like Salesforce.com, Oracle, Exhange and SharePoint itself.
Though Quad is a newbie to the social networking space, Forrester's Koplowitz sees potential in Cisco's real-time collaboration tools like Web conferencing, IM and video for the enterprise.
"As the line between communications and collaboration blurs, Cisco could use their position of strength in communications to create some very compelling collaboration tools," he says.
Quad is also scheduled to be available as a native iPhone and iPad application this fall, with other mobile devices to follow, says Murali Sitaram, vice president for the enterprise collaboration business unit at Cisco.
Google Buzz and Salesforce Chatter
SaaS pioneers Google and Salesforce.com also have social networking platforms at play, named Buzz and Chatter, respectively.
Google Buzz, launched in February, is built into Gmail and creates a Facebook-like interface for sharing photos, videos and links and status updates with friends and co-workers (that is, if your company is using Gmail).
Designed as a consumer product, Google Buzz has had a limited impact on the enterprise so far, says Koplowitz. But he adds that Buzz could start to challenge SharePoint as more CIOs decide if cloud-based Google Apps and Gmail make sense for their organizations.
"Google is still early in the enterprise and most customers are trying to get their arms around more basic collaborative workloads like e-mail," he says. "But once those customers are stable and looking to expand to more social tools, they may start experimenting with Buzz."
Google Buzz does have deeper smartphone integration than the competition, from a Buzz mobile web app to a Buzz layer in Google Maps for mobile, he says. But as is true for many Google products, enterprises are likely to have security, privacy and customer support concerns with Google Buzz, says Koplowitz.
Salesforce.com's social collaboration platform, called Chatter, became generally available last week after months of hype and a well-received private beta that started in February. Chatter provides the same Facebook-like look and features as Google Buzz and others, but is designed to integrate with both Salesforce's portfolio of business apps and financial and HR apps from the likes of Oracle and Microsoft.
An overview of Salesforce.com's Chatter.
Chatter's key advantage as an enterprise social platform is that it will bring in more customers to Salesforce.com's growing ecosystem. Chatter is accessible from all of the established Salesforce products and the 160,000 applications built on the Force.com, Salesforce's developer platform.
For existing customers, Chatter is free as a new feature. There is also a Chatter-only option for $15 a month for each user.