Enterprises the battleground for social networking

Battle is on between heavyweights Facebook, LinkedIn and solutions from established software vendors.

The battle to provide social networking in the enterprise is under way between solutions from established software vendors and readily available offerings such as Facebook and LinkedIn, with these sites possessing a lot of momentum, an industry insider stressed during a conference on Friday afternoon.

"It's not clear at this point which category of vendors ultimately is going to deliver more value to the enterprise," argued Antony Brydon, former CEO and founder of Visible Path, a corporate social networking startup acquired by information services company Hoover's early this year. He served on a panel session on business social networking at the Social Networking Conference in San Francisco.

IBM, he said, arguably has more employees connected to LinkedIn than to its own Lotus Connections system, Brydon said

"I think we're in a market that could end up looking a lot like the IM market," where a consumer product like AOL IM gained dominance in the enterprise, said Brydon. He added he did not take it for granted that companies such as Microsoft would dominate the business social networking space.

Multibillion-dollar social networking companies have been built covering the consumer, collegiate, and professional realms but not yet in the corporate realm, he said.

Panelist Jim Fowler, CEO of Jigsaw, noted Jigsaw's experiences as an online provider of contact information. "Basically, it's a business card exchange," said Fowler. He emphasized both the willingness of customers to share data with Jigsaw in return for a price break and the emergence of the "information wants to be free" concept.

"I believe that we're going to move very quickly to the point where people look at it and say, information isn't the competitive advantage. It's the ability to react to the information closer to real-time," Fowler said.

Fowler cited a use of Jigsaw in which a user disappointed with DSL service support was able to find marketing contacts at the DSL vendor on Jigsaw; they then solved the problem quickly. "I think it's fascinating to watch how people use data in ways that you would never expect," Fowler said.

Also presenting at the conference was Clara Shih, creator of Faceforce, which she called "the first business application built on the Facebook platform." She also is product line manager for AppExchange at Salesforce.com.

Faceforce integrates Facebook with the Salesforce.com CRM system. Shih, who said she developed Faceforce over a weekend, stressed the trend of social applications for business, noting that workers just coming into the workforce have been used to collaborating on social networks.

"This is inevitable for business," she said.

Faceforce links with AppExchange, which is Salesforce.com's on-demand application-sharing service.

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