Despite private alternatives, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will continue to be the primary social networking tools used by businesses, investor Mike Maples says.
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn will continue to be the primary social networking tools used by businesses, despite attempts by vendors to create private alternatives that are blocked from the public Internet, according to a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who invests in Web-centric businesses.
However, corporate users are interested in software that connects enterprise data systems to public social networking sites, allowing use of Facebook and Twitter in a more secure, brand-friendly manner, says Mike Maples, Jr. of Floodgate, which was formerly known as Maples Investments.
Maples, whose past investments include Digg and Twitter, believes there is little reason for businesses to replicate what Facebook and similar sites have already created.
"Do you build your own new system, and deal with all the corresponding issues that it entails, or do you take the existing platforms that are winning and extend them?" Maples asks. "I'm a big believer in the extend what works approach."
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have not been proactive about making their social networks work in the enterprise, Maples says. "They haven't yet published a lot of APIs that can be leveraged by enterprises. They haven't partnered with that many companies that can take their solutions to IT," Maples says. The social networks don't seem to understand the importance of access control and compliance policies in the enterprise, he says.
That may be why companies like Yammer have created Twitter-like tools that run behind the enterprise firewall, and why Salesforce created Chatter, a Facebook-like tool for businesses.
But Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn already have wide audiences that businesses would be wise to tap into. Employees are spending working hours on the sites as well. While some businesses are taking Draconian stances by blocking access to the sites, others are interested in trying to make employee use of social networks an opportunity, rather than a drag on productivity, Maples says.
"LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are already getting penetration into enterprises, but almost by accident," Maples says. "Enterprises are confronting the question of whether these tools can be used for productivity gain. Should we take advantage of the fact that they're already there?"
Regarding Yammer, a Twitter clone used internally by some businesses, Maples says "I have a good deal of respect for the Yammer team, but I think it's more likely in the long run that people will extend Twitter to work inside the firewall."
Maples is on the lookout for companies that take the established social networks and make them palatable to IT departments and CEOs by adding security, keeping records that can be audited, and controlling brand image.
That's why he's invested $500,000 in an Austin, Texas, company called Socialware, which has created a sort of middleware that is placed between enterprise IT systems and the social networks.
SocialWare "was the first company I've seen that really was letting enterprises automate their social networking policy, but do it in a way where you weren't trying to create some new platform," Maples says. "It's easier to go with the current than to create a new wave."
Businesses that want to use social networks are realizing they have no way to enforce policies, control access, or gain visibility into what's happening on the sites, SocialWare executives say.
Socialware's Sync and Compass software products, adopted by 30 customers so far, provide archiving of data and activity on social sites, while automating the process of providing access, tracking activity and moderating what employees write.
The software, for example, lets enterprises enable or disable features on social networking sites, says Socialware CEO Kip McClanahan. It also produces audit reports that help companies comply with various industry and government regulations. Companies that worry about employees revealing confidential information or making statements harmful to the corporation's public image can store all messages in a queue and then release them for public posting once they have been vetted.Teneros, which created software-as-a-service that tracks what employees write on public social networks, but not until after the posts have become public.
That's a different approach than the one taken by
Socialware works with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and could potentially integrate with more social networks in the future. Like Maples, Socialware believes in leveraging existing networks rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.
"A lot of the social players are creating fancy intranets," says Chad Bockius, vice president of marketing and product strategy for Socialware. "To some extent there will always be a need for that functionality, but at the end of the day … the reason
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are so valuable is because of the networks. That's where the eyeballs are and that's where the people are."
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