Socialtext co-founder: Enterprise Twitter isn’t enough

30 Sep

Enterprise social software company Socialtext is releasing Socialtext 3.0, with the features we previewed here in April: the corporate social network Socialtext People, and a revised home page for business users called Socialtext Dashboard. These functions, plus a revised and streamlined user interface, will be embedded in the Socialtext suite, along with a new feature that records a running stream of who's doing what and where on the system, which users can subscribe to from their profile pages or their dashboards. It's almost, but not quite, Socialtext's own Twitter for enterprise customers. Missing is the capability for users to post free-form, Twitter-like items into the stream. That function is coming later, according to Ross Mayfield, chairman, president, and co-founder of Socialtext.

What's the hold-up? Mayfield showed me a prototype business nanoblog called Socialtext Signals, as if to prove that the company could make such an app. (It didn't take long, he admitted). But he said of the app, "We're going to throw it away"--the code, that is--and start over to build a more robust business nanoblog that offers what people in a workplace really need.

You can't have it yet.

Mayfield says that just giving users a Twitter clone doesn't solve the dual problems of information overload on the one hand, and personal isolation at work on the other. He believes that the most important communication between workers in a company is what they are doing. "When I work," Mayfield says, "I'm sharing knowledge as a byproduct of getting work done. In the enterprise, what someone does is more important than what they say."

So the new Socialtext will let users subscribe to wiki pages and to the activity stream of other users, to see when files are edited, and when tasks are accepting and finishing. The product also displays comments left on wiki pages. But the feature that lets users ask free-form questions to their workgroup is missing.

Mayfield told me Socialtext will eventually release a standalone, desktop version of Signals that lets users "Twitter" to their co-workers. A private beta of the app is entering testing now.

I'm not sure Socialtext's delay is due to a lag in development or if it's strategic. I suspect the latter. Mayfield, who speaks in somewhat Delphic riddles regarding the nature of work, says, "The updates box (in Socialtext Signals) is less about trying to have conversations. It's about surfacing conversations that people are having in workspaces."

I'm glad to see a contemporary groupware company like Socialtext taking the longer view of the Twitter concept than upstarts like Yammer and In this space, I've been a fan of Socialcast more than those apps, because it's based on the larger vision of integrating information from numerous group applications. That's what Socialtext is doing, too, and it's the right thing for business. "The end state for this kind of application is a connected collaboration platform, not standalone microblogging, which is relatively shallow," Mayfield said. But I still believe that the company should hustle up and get its Twitter-alike product into the hands of its customers. Not everyone appreciates the long view.

Socialtext 3.0 gets a social network and a quasi-Twitter function.

(Credit: Socialtext)

Related Webware reviews:
Yammer: A 'Twitter for the enterprise' is smarter than Yammer
Socialcast is FriendFeed for your business

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