NewsGator sharpens enterprise social network product

NewsGator has enhanced its enterprise social networking software for Microsoft SharePoint.

NewsGator has enhanced its Social Sites enterprise social-networking software with Facebook-like activity stream notifications and improved search functionality.

Social Sites 2.5, which the company describes as "Facebook for the Enterprise," is one of an emerging class of enterprise software designed to replicate the consumer social-networking experience but adapted for a workplace setting. The software runs on Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Products like Social Sites and rival Socialtext's Socialtext 3.0 aim to transfer the benefits of social networking sites -- improved communication, sharing of information and connecting with new acquaintances -- to the corporate environment.

Like blogging, wikis and syndicated feeds, social networking is the latest example of a Web 2.0 application that became popular among consumers and is now being adopted by IT departments to enhance the way employees collaborate.

Social Sites 2.5, designed to expand SharePoint Server 2007's capabilities, gives administrators a management console to monitor activity related to individual users, pre-defined groups, descriptive document tags and activity feeds, NewsGator said Tuesday. With this information, administrators can be aware of the popularity of files and documents with different types of users, making adjustments as necessary to the content being offered for employee collaboration via SharePoint.

In addition, Social Sites 2.5 has a new wizard that automates a user's process of discovery of co-workers or groups that are relevant to his or her job. The wizard associates tags with the user's profile based on his or her duties and roles. Social Sites 2.5 is also more tightly integrated with the SharePoint Search Center, resulting in more granular search capabilities for users.

This most recent version of the product also taps into the trend of activity notification feeds, made popular by Facebook, FriendFeed and Twitter among others. Social Sites 2.5 captures a variety of user actions, like tagging or rating an article, and broadcasts notifications to their contacts.

Although Social Sites 2.5 is so tightly linked to SharePoint, NewsGator isn't worried about Microsoft possibly developing many of the Social Sites features internally, said Brian Kellner, product development vice president at NewsGator.

NewsGator has very good communication with Microsoft both at the product and sales levels, he said. "Microsoft has been very forthcoming with us about where they're going with SharePoint," Kellner said. "They've been very helpful in pointing us towards areas that they believe are important to enhance based on the feedback they've gotten and based on what they know they won't be able to add to SharePoint."

There is no question that Microsoft will build at minimum a core foundation of enterprise social-networking features for SharePoint in its next big release, said Forrester analyst Rob Koplowitz. It's a big hole in the product right now and although it's being filled nicely by partners like NewsGator, Microsoft is lagging behind competitors in that area, he said.

Consequently, NewsGator does well in staying as informed as possible about Microsoft's plans, so that it can maintain Social Sites as a highly differentiated complement to SharePoint. "That's the magic dance for NewsGator. It's like dancing with an elephant," Koplowitz said. It helps NewsGator that it has gained a solid customer base for Social Sites, he said.

What's clear is that IT departments are factoring in enterprise social networking into their collaboration software plans more and more. Nimble vendors are taking advantage of this surge in interest, expanding beyond their initial niches, he said: NewsGator was initially an enterprise RSS specialist, and Socialtext's original forte was enterprise wiki software.

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