Is SharePoint Set To Become The De Facto Enterprise Social Media Platform

Or Will Social Media Have Evolved Well Past SharePoint 2010 By The Time It Ships

Collaboration products like wiki's and platforms like SharePoint have gradually added social media-like features to their products. Wiki's, content management systems, and SharePoint all have things like personal pages, blogs and RSS feeds. Many are expecting SharePoint 2010 to accelerate its support of social media features, but for most of us it's hard to know what really will be there until later this year when we get to take a peak at it via the Technology Preview of SharePoint and Office products. I have personally seen the pheomena talked about in this ComputerWorld/CIO article, where a corporation extends their wiki platform into a enterprise 2.0 social media collaboration platform, in this case using Confluence by Atlassian with its support for internal blogs and personal pages.

SharePoint is actually very well positioned as a corporate enterprise 2.0 platform. It's in virtually every business, large and small, and even if it's not in use, because SharePoint Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) comes free with every Windows Server 2003 and 2008 license. Just as an aside, what a brilliant strategy, btw, to get the core of SharePoint free into every business, and charge for higher end analytics and search features. Because of this, SharePoint could be the next piece of Microsoft software the EU takes Microsoft to task for.

And SharePoint has other factors going for it. First is our recession economy. If you already have the core WSS services, you can easily get started with SharePoint for minimal cost and later upgrade to SharePoint Server. Second is that while developers may turn up their noses at a web-based gui configurable platform like SharePoint, IT sees SharePoint as something that can be implemented incrementally at much lower cost, and built upon over time without the hassles, delays, big commitments and expense of traditional software development projects. (There is a development aspect of SharePoint, btw, but that's for another blog post.) IT firms frequently bring in outside SharePoint ninjas to implement the platform, templates and apps, again keeping costs and commitments low because they can quickly get in, get out, and get things up and running, incrementally building apps in SharePoint as needed. (Full disclosure, I'm part of a company that does this kind of SharePoint work so I have my biases and have a dog in this hunt, so I have some pretty strong opinions about this based on my experiences.)

Most importantly, SharePoint is already there, it's in your organization, and are you going to plunk down more money to by another platform that runs alongside SharePoint. Maybe, but the tough economy makes parting with the much dough a difficult and much less likely decision. Wise social media vendors are mitigating this advantage by closely integrating with SharePoint. The ComputerWorld/CIO article points out companies like Newsgator and Atlassian (who's products I've used), and Socialtext and Jive Software. Just up the road from me, Boulder, CO, based HiveLive is another though, I don't know if or how well they integrate with SharePoint.

That's the pro side of the coin supporting SharePoint as the enterprise 2.0 platform. The other con side of that argument is whether social media is evolving so fast that Microsoft's slow product development release process will drag SharePoint down, always missing the next evolution in social media by years not months. Twitter is a perfect example. I was having coffee with a colleague in the social media business, Joe Hodas, and we were discussing how rapidly Twitter had come into the main stream over the last 4 or so months. Yes, the Iranian elections amplified Twitter's visibility greatly, but Twitter was already moving up the charts like a rocket, thanks in part to it's heavy use by cable news media like CNN. (You can follow me on Twitter, btw, at http://www.twitter.com/mitchellashley.

Will Twitter, or a corporate version of what it does, somehow be integrated into SharePoint 2010 or was Twitter moving too rapidly and was beyond the event horizon of product managers at Microsoft? And a year from now, what will replace Twitter and Facebook as the next, new, current hot social media thingy? And can we wait another 3-5 years for the next version of SharePoint to come out supporting that new thingy (which is likely already to be supplanted by some other newer thingy)?

In the end, I suspect the con side of this argument will be mitigated by two factors. Enterprises don't just jump on the latest social media fade. They aren't that nibble and it wouldn't make sense. Those trends have to evolve to a point where critical mass has built up high enough before something's going to get an enterprise's attention. I like to say that today we are in a repeat cycle of what we experienced with the adoption of web sites back in the nineties. Everybody knew they should (or were supposed to) have a web site, but didn't really know why or what to do with it yet. Everybody knew they should jump on board, they just didn't know on board what, and what to do once they were there. Social media's in much the same place from an enterprise perspective. Customers are amassing, but the understanding of how an enterprise plays in that portion of the social media parallel universe is still in the learning and exploratory phases.

The other mitigating factor is Microsoft SharePoint's increasing footprint in businesses. The longer it's there, the more it is likely to be used, and organizations will ask themselves and SharePoint competitors, how do you integrate with what I've already spent all this time gradually building upon, rather than going through the processes of building up everyone's internal presence on yet another platform. It's the enterprise equivalent of mySpace, Facebook, and yahda-yahda, the next hot social media platform. How many social network platforms do I have to be on? That growing enterprise footprint is momentum SharePoint alternatives will increasingly have to battle against.

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