Today Socialtext launched Socialtext 4.0, a significant step forward for our enterprise social software platform. One of the most important new capabilities we’ve introduced is Collaborative Groups, and I thought I would take a breather from press and analyst briefings to jot some thoughts down on why we think they are important.
Groups in the enterprise are different from groups in public social networks
Keep in mind that our goal is to help organizations become more effective – by releasing trapped knowledge, connecting people, and helping them collaborate to get work done. So our goal with groups is different from how a lot of group-type functionality shows up in places like Facebook or LinkedIn. A few of the key differences are:
Some groups are related to org structure. Many larger organizations have groups that are formed from nodes on their directory tree. Socialtext People can be connected to corporate directories via LDAP or Active Directory, and our new Groups functionality leverages that capability.
There’s a wide range of privacy needs for groups at work. There are two dimensions of privacy as they relate to groups in the enterprise – Discoverability and Membership. It’s just fine for many groups to be discoverable by any employee in the company – the golf club, a group of people with expertise in a certain discipline, or a task force working on a cross-functional initiative. Some of these may have open membership, while some may need approval. On the other hand, some groups need to not be publicly visible – for example a task force evaluating an acquisition target – in which case it needs to be completely private. We’ve always worked hard to design privacy into the foundation of our architecture; as a result our new Groups and related functionality preserves and leverages that multidimensional privacy spectrum. And remember that Socialtext has a uniquely flexible deployment option – a SaaS appliance that can be installed behind the firewall.
Groups want to get work done. We’re enabling people not only create and form groups, but to provide and “personalize” the full range of Socialtext’s collaboration features (Signals, wiki workspaces, Dashboards, etc.) for the specific usage and goals of the group.
Making it easy to form groups, but with appropriate administration
Ross Mayfield wrote a great blog post talking about how “We’ve made group-forming ridiculously easy”. We’ve incorporated a lot of customer feedback into balancing the needs of IT Administrators to have some control while at the same time removing friction that makes it difficult for business people to create and form groups.
Groups provide context
Ever since we introduced Socialtext Signals, our secure enterprise microblogging capability, the deployment, adoption, and usage of it has grown rapidly. As Signals has been deployed enterprise-wide with great success, we immediately saw the opportunity to deepen the value by provide Signals Channels in conjunction with Groups. This makes it really easy for groups to take their discussions out of the fully public stream through a simple pull-down menu pick – note that people have been hacking this for awhile on Twitter using hashtags – except that everyone still sees them (remember the really annoying tweet flood last year during SXSW – oh no is that coming up again soon?) In Socialtext’s Signals Channels, the context is preserved for the people in those channels, and the signal-to-noise ration is improved for those who aren’t. Adina Levin wrote a great post expanding on this “The revival of groups in the age of the network”.
Groups across the company boundary
We’ve been supporting customers in B2B secure extranet use cases for years, and as we’ve added Signals and now Groups we’ve been thoughtful and careful to deal with the privacy and sharing issues that multiple extranets create. Maximizing sharing and transparency within the company while separating what is visible across and between different business partners is a hard problem, and I’m proud of some of the hard thinking and elegant solutions our team has come up with. If I’m a law firm, I clearly can’t have any leakage of information going on between my clients, or between what one team in my firm is doing with Client A and another team is doing with Client B – and moreover I probably don’t want either client to know the identity of my other clients. We’ve tackled some pretty complex situations throughout our company evolution and we’re lucky to be able to build on our past experience and the architecture has evolved through that experience. Some highly visible privacy mis-steps by some other vendors recently just highlight the importance and difficulty of these problems.
Groups are all about people
My “Business is Conducted by People, not Users” post described how important People are to our way of thinking. Socialtext 4.0 is just another major step forward in putting people front and center – making it easy for them to find each other, create groups and teams, and then marshall the collaborative resources to help them get stuff done. I’m super proud of the Socialtext team in delivering this milestone, and we’re blessed to have great customers who’ve helped us design, refine, and deliver this major release.