The social network penny drops at Oracle

Courtesy of a link from Jake Kuramoto at Oracle, it seems the social networking bug has bitten inside Oracle:Oracle people desperately want to be connected to each other. We are an increasingly distributed 60,000 plus, and one of the top feature requests we’ve had is to mandate pictures.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Courtesy of a link from Jake Kuramoto at Oracle, it seems the social networking bug has bitten inside Oracle:

Oracle people desperately want to be connected to each other. We are an increasingly distributed 60,000 plus, and one of the top feature requests we’ve had is to mandate pictures. Apparently, people want to know who they work with on a daily basis; we’re social animals. Who knew?

Step back a couple of paces. I've pestered Oracle to step into the social networking space over the last few months, not truly believing they'd ever do anything substantial. What I didn't know was that Jake, Paul Pedrazzi and Rich Manalang were beavering away in the background. In true enterprisey fashion, instead of using 'off the peg' consumery tools, they are building something behind the firewall from scratch. It launched on August 2nd. From Paul Pedrazzi's blog entry of August 7th:

Last Friday we launched our first social application. It was a basic directory application with employee names, titles, emails and phone numbers. That’s about it. Rich built it in just a few weeks. The only differentiating feature from our current corporate directory, was that we allowed employees to request other employees to “join their network”.

To “launch” our Alpha, I sent an email to a group of a few hundred people inside Oracle. In the first hour of operation we went from 3 users (Jake, Rich, and I) to over 270 users. After 10hrs we were nearing 2,000 users and today we hit 10,000. Just over 1/7th of the entire company in under 3 business days. No marketing. No master plan. This was an experiment, remember. We were dumbstruck.

And it didn't fall apart. To those of us used to the many consumery services this doesn't sound particularly exciting. Coming from an enterprise class company like Oracle, this is a very big deal. Congratulations. Its' a credible start. In a matter of days, the experiment has taken on a life of its own. From Jake's entry on August 8th:

We’ve uncovered a new demographic that I didn’t expect. These are the ravenous consumers who have either have not participated in a social network or do nothing more than join and not return. The reasons are many: not enough time, lack of privacy, lack of features, no clear relationship to work, etc. This group trusts our network because it’s inside the firewall and it’s made up of colleagues.

While we patted ourselves on the back, our new users started to ask for features. Questions like: What’s the point other than building a network? What do I do with my network? These are common. Also common, questions like: What if you widgetized this internal system and plugged it into the network? Can I contribute to your project, in addition to my regular work? Would I be able to invite customers into this network?

[my emphasis added] and most recently, Jake says:

I talked about a surprise demographic of users in my last post on Connect, i.e. people who will consume voraciously as long as they trust the network. My guess is this demographic exists everywhere, including ABN AMRO, which is an Oracle customer.

Imagine the power of creating a social extranet between Oracle and its customers, allowing for secure social interaction. Extend the model to include other customers using Oracle. Many of our customer groups like the Customer Advisory Boards bring customers together. What if they could stay in touch and collaborate through a secure social network provided by Oracle?

Note to the team: the possibilities are endless.

This is where things become a tad tricky for me. I prefer the SAP SDN/BPX forums and blogs model where everything is transparent. There are customer focused, role-based subsets that are closed for reasons of sensitivity but as a general rule, I'd prefer open because as a buy side person:

  • There is a better opportunity for me to learn without having to go through the routine of calling up the vendor account handler (inevitably leading to sales calls for which I may not be ready)
  • I am better able to distinguish the relative merits of each company without having to bump up against a lot of sales talk
  • Cross collaboration is easier and time to decision should be shorter

I can see significant advantages in creating a safe environment for Oracle personnel and its customers so the current implementation makes perfect sense. As they progress, the team will need to be careful because as they are already discovering, things inside Oracle are not quite as they thought. One of the many phenomena social software exposes is the extent to which people inside organizations are looking for change, the depth of undiscovered creativity and the value of collaboration. Handled appropriately, this can deliver demonstrable benefit. Handled poorly, and the workforce will be dis-incentivized.

Anne Zelenka is excited by what she sees and is less concerned about the organizational potholes:

I’m really excited to see what Oracle’s experimenting with in bringing social software into the enterprise. I see them starting to answer the question of how you do ad hoc problem-solving across informal social networks when there’s a formal hierarchy involved. This, to me, is a key issue in the Web 2.0 version of enterprise software.

Longer term, I wonder how this will pan out, given the evidence to date suggests that 'open' works a lot better than 'closed?' What, for example, about connectedness and discovery across Oracle customers' value chains? How might this current intiative connect to Justin Kestelyn's OTN Blog and the underpinning Technology Network? That is a good few steps away and in fairness, the team is very much at the beginning of its journey.

We now have two different models emerging. The one SAP is pursuing and this alternative version from Oracle. The Oracle team are clearly excited with what's going on and from the post details, they have much to do. However, unless the rest of us can 'see' what's really happening, we only have their word for the progress they claim in the public blog. As past masters of spin, it is hard to trust Oracle when they operate in an opaque manner. In comments to the latest post, Jake says the company will be able to show progress at the next OpenWorld. If that's the case, is there any reason why we can't see a few screenshots now?

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