Microsoft SharePoint: Three Sleek Social Networking Alternatives

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 promises more enterprise social networking tools, but if you're still questioning the cost and complexity, here's a look at some lean and mean alternatives.

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Thu, February 04, 2010

CIO

Microsoft's (MSFT) SharePoint suite started out in the early 2000's as a place to store and manage Office documents, but it has quickly evolved into a vast enterprise information portal and content management system. And more and more it's becoming a "social networking platform."

As the social networking influence of Facebook and Twitter (profile pages, news feeds, status updates, 140-character microblogs) spill over into workplace, more enterprises are deploying social media tools to improve efficiency and communication, and vendors both young (startups SocialText and Jive) and old (IBM's (IBM) Lotus Connections) are eager to provide the tools.

[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's new Windows 7 operating system -- including hands-on reviews, video tutorials and advice on enterprise rollouts -- see CIO.com's Windows 7 Bible. ]

MOSS 2007 (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007) integrated social tools through partnerships with companies like NewsGator for RSS feeds and Atlassian for enterprise wiki software. But the MOSS 2007 social features have been viewed as clunky.

"Blogs and wikis in MOSS 2007 were weak compared to best-of-breed solutions," says Rob Koplowitz, principal analyst at research firm Forrester.

SharePoint 2010, now in beta and set for general availability in June, is upping the ante with more native social networking features that Microsoft promises will be easier to use.

Microsoft is relying on the smooth integration of profile pages, RSS and activity feeds, wikis, blogs, and microblogs as it faces the threat of Enterprise 2.0 SaaS (software as a service) vendors that offer specific social tools to businesses at a fraction of SharePoint's price.

"SharePoint 2010's biggest strength, its breadth of capabilities, is also its greatest weakness," says Koplowitz. "For companies not currently invested in SharePoint that are looking to only fulfill a basic need, like deploying a set of publicly facing blogs, the full SharePoint platform will look like a sledgehammer compared to products from companies like Socialtext, Jive, and others."

Such SaaS startups have the advantage of developing new features quicker than big companies like Microsoft and IBM can. But SaaS companies have much to fear now that Microsoft has made social tools a priority in SharePoint 2010, says Koplowitz. SaaS upstarts also have to walk the thin line of both competing with SharePoint and making their software compatible with it.

Yet the fact remains: social tools are just a portion of the SharePoint platform and procuring and managing the entire SharePoint suite is a huge task. It entails license and server costs, the training of staff, providing virus protection and backup, and possibly paying for consultant help. It's worth noting that a stripped down, online version of SharePoint has been available since November 2008 and Microsoft cut prices for it in November 2009. SharePoint 2010 will come as both as an on-premises and hosted online offering.

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