Microsoft hooks up at Web 2.0.

I’m a little late on Microsoft’s Atlassian and Newsgator news from last week’s announcement coming out of the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Conference. Scrappy, but solid, little Atlassian (whom you know I just love*) was anointed this year’s wiki-mate (pun intended) for SharePoint 2007. (As opposed to last year’s which was Socialtext). I have to admit, I’m still not clear on how the Confluence wiki is preferable to the Socialtext wiki for SharePoint, but admittedly, I’m not an expert in wiki technology or SharePoint for that matter. I am a wiki user, however, of Socialtext. In the spirit of 2.0 transparency, Redmonk’s James Governor makes an attempt at clearing up the differences with Ross Mayfield chiming in on the comments.

If you need to know more about this, please read Dan Farber, Richard McManus, or see Scoble’s interview with Mike and Jeff for technical details on the announcement.

What interested Jevon and I as we IM-chatted about this last week was how serious was Microsoft about the relationships? Obviously, the company issued a press release, but is this any more than Microsoft showing up to this year’s Web 2.0 party with two “it” girls on its arm– Atlassian and Newsgator? Both startups are sexy and independent rising stars on their own. Yet, both firms could benefit from Microsoft’s large footprint in the enterprise, as well as the success SharePoint 2007 seems to be on track for (topping $800M this summer).

So the announcement is very good for both startups, but does it reveal anything about Microsoft’s plans for a long-term Enterprise 2.0 product road map? Another fellow Enterprise Irregular who has had confidential briefings at Microsoft told me that, “discussions are going on at the highest levels to address this.” Additionally, he pointed out that Steve Ballmer doesn’t make conference appearances willy nilly. “The fact that Ballmer was there demonstrates Microsoft is committed to a long-term strategy here, even if the short term strategy looks more like marketing.”

The bottom line for me is: regardless of who is selling and evangelizing behind the walled gardens and firewalls of EnterpriseGlobal, this particular announcement introduces rich enterprise 2.0 capabilities to a community that has been slow to respond to web 2.0 for the enterprise. That fact alone elicits a big “YaY!” from me.

It’s actually the NewsGator announcement that may give SharePoint customers a taste of “addicting” social networking features for large companies. After the demo NewsGator gave me last week, I pinned down Brian Kellner, Director of Product Management, on the five key benefits for SharePoint users. From a technical perspective they are:

  1. Discovery. With NewsGator Social Sites it’s easier to find people and content. It’s also easier to digest larger profiles of content that is interesting.
  2. Content IN. It’s easier to bring content into SharePoint in the form of press releases/blogs– all fresh content.
  3. Content OUT. It’s easier to send content back out in a single click with push notifications to several platforms and devices including mobile.
  4. Increased usability for SharePoint. NewsGator has added “Ajax-y goodness” so users can mark items as read, use pop-ups, etc., without page refresh.
  5. Lightens the Load for IT. As page loads draw off the enterprise server, it lightens the load off SharePoint.

But after talking to Jeff Nolan this weekend, he convinced me social networking was the killer feature for this announcement. Jeff said it’s the “seeing what your colleagues are posting and commenting on” similar to Plaxo’s Pulse that is going to add a nice dimension to SharePoint. Brian left this comment on a SharePoint customer’s blog that sums it up:

Social Sites does 4 things for SharePoint:
– Bring in content from many feeds, filtered and focused for a site with the ability to mark things read and tag items
– Easy, one-click subscription and routing of SharePoint changes – I have SharePoint blog posts going to a desktop notifier and document library changes going to my blackberry for example
– Better discovery and usability – Social Sites provides a quick scan page including a tag cloud (you can put the tag cloud web part on any / all of your team sites), a view of the top moving feeds, and most active users
– Easy discovery of expertise and interests. You can click on an author or tagger’s name to get a mini profile or view a full profile page and see tags, top subscriptions, saved items, and more for that user.

SocialSites Profile Page

In the past few posts, I’ve been complaining about the enterprise application vendors, but jeepers– SAP has truly been stepping up to the plate (I personally can’t wait to see if they commercialize Harmony), IBM clearly gets this, Microsoft is now dating and cooking up bigger plans, all we have left is Oracle. Oracle is hosting its OpenWorld Conference in a few weeks, which ironically, is not so open to bloggers. Via a Tweet from Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang earlier today at Oracle’s Lunch 2.0 event, we heard “Oracle is giving demos of their enterprise 2.0 apps. some are very promising but others need a major overhaul.” I look forward to reading the reports over the next few weeks regarding Oracle’s plans. So there you have it. The enterprise apps vendors are on the move.

Finally, I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning an alternative to SharePoint if you want great collaboration and social networking performance in the enterprise without the SharePoint experience. (Jeff and I also got into the “does SharePoint (um) suck or rock?” question. Suffice it to say there is evidence on both sides of that debate.) And of course, let’s not forget both Newsgator and Atlassian’s Confluence are available without SharePoint. That being said…

Check out ThoughtFarmer.

thoughtfarmer screen shot

I met these guys out at Office 2.0, but was tipped off to them again from Jevon. Chris McGrath, co-creator, told me ThoughtFarmer started out as a SharePoint project, but they ended up scrapping it and building their own. Granted, it was then SharePoint 2003, which even Jeff Nolan says, “definitely s**ed.”

Again, the good news here is there are strong reasons why enterprises can look seriously now at these web 2.0 technologies for the enterprise. The mission is now persuading them why they would want to. It sounds trivial, but for those outside of the “get-it” inner circle, it’s not. More posts to come on this topic. Stay tuned.

*I took a bit of a risk by backing Atlassian early on when they were relatively unknown. Now, I’m glad I did. Like in sports, good teams win on fundamentals, and these guys knew how to please customers and grow a business.

Show me the money… not the smiley faces.

When I was interviewing Nathan Gilliatt a few months ago for a webinar we were doing for our clients on the basics of blogging, he introduced me to the importance of online communities. I felt so strongly that he was correct about online communities’ importance in the social media landscape that I recommended incorporating a session on online communities at Office 2.0 and had Dion Hinchcliffe host the panel. A few weeks ago, I serendipitously stumbled upon a Social Media Club of Austin meeting on Facebook where Dell managers were going to be presenting their blogging and online community experiences. Caroline Dietz, the online community manager for Dell’s IdeaStorm gave a good synopsis of how the community is harvested for new product ideas and improvements for Dell. I had the opportunity to spend a few moments afterwards talking to Dell’s chief blogger, Lionel Menchaca, which I really enjoyed.

NYTimes IDC chartThe one question I managed to get in during the open forum that I felt was obligatory was related to how measurable an impact has Dell’s social media strategy been on Dell’s business–in material (read:financial) terms. There was a lot of discussion regarding how the social media strategy is changing the culture at Dell, how customer satisfaction is improving, etc. And, I’ve seen some reports on the before and after social media at Dell. But, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask a public company if this social media razzmatazz has really made, well, a serious difference in the company’s affairs. It’s so easy to be seduced by this technology and to see it working for startups and small pilots, but large public companies have weighty issues.

I’ve attended enough investor analyst conferences, and I’m wondering can Dell’s social media strategy help Michael Dell the next time he’s in front of Citigroup’s Richard Gardner and he has to explain why Dell has fallen from the #1 PC maker to the #2 PC maker worldwide? Better– can Dell’s social media strategy play a role in regaining Dell’s market leadership position?

I’m also wondering why in this recent interview (9/7) with Steve Lohr of the New York Times, why didn’t Michael Dell take the opportunity to highlight how the company is effectively using social media to help Dell “get back to its roots” by directly speaking to the customer base (and listening in return)? Dietz’s answer to my direct question about whether there have been any material results from the efforts was more or less, “no.” But, maybe it’s just too early to tell. Menchaca said Dell started the blog in July of 2006, so perhaps the results are not yet measurable in these terms.

I guess I’m just in the mood for some results. There is a wide and growing wider community of experts in the social media space. Perhaps there is solid data on this that I have not seen. Something we’ve been discussing in the Enterprise Irregulars group is how social media and enterprise 2.0 differ which would account for it having slipped my view, but that topic is a post for another day and probably involves taking a crack once again at the arbiter of all 2.0 legitimacy: wikipedia. Not sure I’m in the mood for fighting with the wikipedians.

The session with the Dell folks was interesting, despite my growing impatience for iron-clad case studies of 2.0 in business success. I learned a lot, actually.