Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

Sharepoint, Confluence and Newsgator: towards the social stack

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Yesterday, at the Web 2.0 Conference, Microsoft announced a strategic partnership with Atlassian’s Confluence wiki platform and Newsgator’s enterprise RSS system to extend its Sharepoint portal product in the direction of enterprise social computing
Jon Silvers of Atlassian announced the deal from their side and explained some of the background. Read/Write Web covers the detail of the features these products help bring to Sharepoint, and Robert Scoble carries a video interview with Jeffrey Walker, who described the deal as David kissing Goliath, and Atlassian CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, who hints on his blog that this was partly a defensive move to maintain Confluence’s market leading position
This validates what we have been advising our enterprise social computing clients for the past two years, namely that Sharepoint is not yet a viable stand-alone solution for social knowledge sharing projects, and also that companies should look to a combination of best-of-breed systems to build the social stack we think is necessary as a basis for enterprise solutions in this area. We already have succesful partnerships in place with Confluence, Newsgator and other best-of-breed systems (e.g. Movable Type for blogging) and we think they have a very bright future. Confluence plus Newsgator covers off wiki-based collaboration and RSS flow management, but there are still some missing pieces to the puzzle for any company wanting to base their social tools around Sharepoint, such as good social bookmarking, integrated social tagging, activity-driven personal profiles and a recommendation system based on attention metadata. Arguably, Sharepoint can offer personal portals for individuals to pull together their activity in different areas, but not with the same ease of use and elegance that users already enjoy on the public ‘net using iGoogle, Netvibes, et al
Thomas Vander Wal also believes the current best-of-breed products are coming from smaller, more focused vendors like Atlassian, Socialtext, etc.; and specifically on the use of Sharepoint, he points out some problems that he has come across

Microsoft Sharepoint is every enterprise’s darling for a few weeks. Sharepoint built on top of its existing teamware, collaboration, and workflow tools from the prior version and added easier to use interfaces. The downside for organizations is it creates mini silos of content and ideas that can benefit the whole organization. There is a lot of frustration around Sharepoint in enterprise as it is more difficult to get it to do what is desired and the silo issues are often problematic

The technical barriers to integrating Sharepoint, Confluence and Newsgator are not particularly high. We already integrate them in our lab and we will have a working version of the new code released by Atlassian very soon for our current and future clients to play with. But it has sometimes been hard to convince corporate IT people that Sharepoint is not yet a viable enterprise social knowledge sharing platform, which has been an occasional source of frustration as decisions like this are sometimes taken on the basis of what suits IT rather than their users, and based on very little actual knowledge or experience with these products. Mike Gotta articulated this issue rather well in a post called Please hold for Knowledge Network. Thanks to Microsoft, this changed yesterday. Yay for common sense
The clear implication of the partnership is that although Sharepoint aspires to become an enterprise social computing platform, it will take some time to get there. Kudos to Microsoft for recognising this and being open to work with other vendors. This makes the decision over which tools and systems to use for which purpose a lot easier. If you are Microsoft-dependent, then Sharepoint makes a lot of sense for Office integration, document storage and portals that pull information from a variety of backend systems. But much of the value in social computing lies in the way it enables informal, pre-document knowledge sharing and collaboration, which is better supported using a combination of blogs and wikis. RSS is an essential underpinning capability, and Newsgator Enterprise Server is a very good product in this respect. But there are many more elements to a mature social platform, and I hope this important development will make it easier for IT departments to feel comfortable with a slightly more diverse platform in future
Your users are crying out for the ease of use and power that they already enjoy using online tools outside the firewall. You can no longer hide behind a “single vendor strategy” (which is an oxymoron, by the way 😉 as a way of justifying the backwardness of your internal offering. Why not give your users what they need to make their job more productive, connected and interesting? You know where to find us 🙂

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