Consistent standards for defining 'social business'

The W3C are getting more involved with defining standards around 'social business' - this is a very good thing IMO
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

We're entering a fresh year of marketing wars around naming conventions, with various vendors aligned around conceptual ideas that they hope will define and corner the market for them. The noise level is likely to be greater than ever as investments need to be recouped and projected (and possibly hoped for...) market share captured.

While everyone and their brother has now baked an activity stream into their software, there are large, complicated operational activities enabled by our new interconnectedness and associated technologies which are not well defined and which vary enormously in value depending on industry vertical. Interoperability with previous generations of technologies and deeply ingrained ways of working make the task of defining the opportunities for greater efficiency all the more challenging.

Battle lines that have been drawn for some time between vendors are likely to become more defined this year, but more importantly will the average Joe or Jane outside the tech industry have any idea what all the noise is about? As Larry Dignan commented on ZDNet earlier this week there's "...more chatter about the social enterprise than the tech industry can stand" and in my experience some people are already exasperated and turned off by all the noise over substance. I've talked to various people at the W3C over the last couple of weeks on several topics including standards for Social Business/ Social Enterprise/ Enterprise 2.0/Collaborative Networks ...or whatever you choose to call formally deployed Web 2.0 and mobile technologies inside companies and more importantly the work patterns that can improve productivity around them.

A heroic precursor and enabler to the Web 2.0 movement was WASP, The Web Standards Project, which was formed by visual coders and designers to help drive consistency across the various flavors of web browsers, which was driving everyone nuts back then. In that era there was some frustration with the W3C not holding the various vendors feet to the fire on consistency around adherence to html and later CSS standards. That type of battle ten years ago could well be repeated in the coming months, this time about technical adherence and use models, and the W3C are thankfully involved at an earlier stage this time.

Most large companies already have many flavors of technologies in house - marketing has Jive, engineers Atlassian, IT Sharepoint etc etc - and getting any kind of interoperability and information between the various username and password protected collaboration silos can be very problematic, particularly when there are fiefdoms involved.

The larger players are now making fresh significant moves to try to capture enterprise scale with use case frameworks. The Dachis Group did ground breaking work on the then new concept of a social business over the last three years, while Jive software renamed their Clearspace products 'Social Business Software' in 2009 and of course Salesforce have evangelized their vision of the 'Social Enterprise' on the foundation of their force.com platform. IBM have been slowly ramping up their version of Social Business - I attended a free roadshow with prospects this time last year where Rob Koplowitz of analyst firm Forrester presented their current vision. Not much interest from the attendees I spoke to back then, who admittedly were mostly pre existing IBM clients grappling with older generations of their technology.

A lot has happened in the last twelve months however and many people have done great work in maturing both the products and the marketplace: Jive successfully IPO'd and funding has flowed to various software companies in anticipation of a lucrative new market space. I'm one of the people working with end users of these technologies and have the bruises that come with actually rolling up your sleeves on a Monday morning and making better collaboration work within the parameters and contexts of specific company cultures, and can attest to the marketing sizzle deprogramming often necessary before you get to the pragmatic work of driving greater efficiencies - which is what justifies the purchase of these technologies.

The W3C did an 'idea jam' using IBM technology in November of last year, partly to discuss the value of open standards in social business - more on this in another post - and IBM and Google in particular appear to be getting behind greater consistency through the W3C stewardship, which I think is a great thing and good insurance against post irrational exuberance bubble bursts. Saba Software are currently running a Management 2.0 Hackathon led by Gary Hamel I'm involved with which is throwing up some interesting angles, cumulatively these efforts will ideally result in a body of mature thinking that will be of more use than than the endless 'How to' social media lightweight handy hints that often do more harm than good. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing....

Aside from all the marketing driven vendors I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Atlassian and Alfresco in the big picture, who are the solid bedrock for those choosing to roll their own environments, vendors such as Socialtext and Traction Team Page who have done so much to get the marketplace to where it is today through their deep thinking and contributions to the evolving online world - and of course the much maligned (and successful) Microsoft Sharepoint and associated cloud developments. Companies free of the baggage incumbents such as IBM have, such as Moxie software or Box.net arguably have advantages in their ability to provide the opportunity for a fresh start to prospects, an idea Jive have historically been very successful with in the past.

With HR Tech, Business Process and all manner of other vendors all jumping into the 'social' space there has never been a more important time for standards consistency - this will be a very interesting next few months and a lot depends on the longer term triumph of standards over marketing hyperbole.


Crowd image Vince Golangco

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