The business challenge for social networking software

Given the widespread popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, technology analysts and commentators have for some time now been debating over their use in the commercial workplace. The argument rests on whether they provide a means to facilitate improved team engagement as a "collaborative" networking tool, or whether they are simply a distraction.

Given the widespread popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, technology analysts and commentators have for some time now been debating over their use in the commercial workplace. The argument rests on whether they provide a means to facilitate improved team engagement as a "collaborative" networking tool, or whether they are simply a distraction.

The question is – if it's going to happen and social networking is going to enter the workplace more visibly, then who is going to make it happen?

Founded in open source roots, Jive Software has used the commercial Java EE (Enterprise Edition) software platform to build its Social Business Software (SBS) product. SBS claims to, "Take all the great things people love about social networking software, collaboration software, and community software and make them work for business."

In fact it does more than that, Jive also integrates the type of functionality you would expect to find in discussion forums, blogs, wikis and Instant Messaging.

Despite being relatively unknown, Jive claims to have secured deals with British companies including Bupa, Screwfix.com, BP, Cancer Research and the Natural History Museum for 'enterprise wide' roll out of its product.

So the question here is, given the very fluid nature of this still-nascent technology area and Jive's proximity to open source and Java EE, will open source hold the answer to this technology's development?

CTO & co-founder of Jive Software Matt Tucker says that his company has made significant contributions to open source repositories where software code for these projects is stored and shared. But he believes a full open source business model in the highly competitive social business software category will not be profitable.

"We're in a period of rapid market adoption and now is the time to determine whether an open and interoperable ecosystem will emerge. Jive believes the most important battle here is the decision to embrace open standards. Expect to see legacy vendors like Microsoft and Salesforce.com give lip service to standards without doing anything real," said Tucker in his company blog.

Jive's company blog you say? You just know they had to call it Jive Talk don't ya?

So the despite Jive's upbeat "Hey, social networking for business is already happening and we have customers!" – the rest of us are sitting back and looking for a few extra hard core game changing factors (yes, possibly developer related) to make this all happen.

To their credit, Jive announced last week that it is launching an application developer community in September with full API documentation, example applications and tutorials on how to "leverage" the Jive platform. "Developers will be able to combine their knowledge of the Open Social framework with the Jive apps services to build and test apps that reside inside Jive," the company says.

For the time being, the use of social networking in business seems to be mostly down to the 'corporate attitude' of the company concerned and general levels of employee trust. So watch this space.

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