In Eugene Lee’s keynote speech at Enterprise 2.0 in Boston, he talked about how social in the enterprise needs to be a layer, not a feature. The business benefits of enterprise 2.0 are realized when more people have access to information and are able to work together to solve problems across organizational silos. But if “social” is just a feature of each business application separately, the organization cannot make use of the social network for people to find information and solve problems. (There are business reasons to keep some information in close groups, and nobody wants every message in the organization flooding into their personal stream. But the benefits of enteprise 2.0 are realized when the constraints of silos are loosened.)
The opportunity for “social” to be a layer across applications is very similar to opportunity in personal social life. In a recent TechCrunch post, Robert Scoble wrote about the missed opportunities and connections because various services, including FourSquare, PlanCast, Tungle, Glympse, and Siri didn’t talk to each other. In Scoble’s stories, the silos create missed opportunities for personal connection – he runs late on a dinner with a friend, and misses a concert that other friends are attending. Earlier this week, I wrote about how existing standards and protocols can enable those connections today.
The Business Scenarios
The opportunities for connection, and the costs of missed connection are different in a business environment.
- A customer-facing social media strategy is only as good as the organization’s ability to actually solve the customer’s problem. Imagine if a customer’s complaint on Twitter could be used privately for internal collaboration about how to solve the problem
- Sometimes an issue surfaced by a line of business system needs input from people across the organization to solve – for example, an inventory issue that has sales implications
- Bringing alerts and information from line of business system to the business social network helps get information and solutions from useful and surprising places
For an illustration, see slides 18-27 in the presentation below. Social streams aren’t about the replacement of business process with networks, but about connecting business processes to the network, and engaging the network to address outside of existing process.
Fulfilling The Vision With Today’s Standards
In order to fulfill this vision of social as layer – not a series of tools with disconnected functionality – - a set of protocols are emerging that allow people to follow each other across tools, and to get updates from each other across tools. It is exciting to see efforts to weave together these standards and protocols to enable this social layer.
Standard and Custom Content: The emerging ActivityStrea.ms standard provides a defined vocabulary for representing common types of social software actions – friending and following, posting, editing, liking, etc. In the enterprise, this will enable common social gestures like following and liking to be aggregated across tools, and across the cell membrane of the organization. ActivityStrea.ms was initially developed as an extension to Atom, but is now being represented in JSON, and in this form will be able to be included as Twitter Annotations.
Annotations: Twitter has recently announced annotations as a general-purpose way of embedding data and rich content, such as images and animations, into a social message. ActivityStrea.ms JSON representation can be carried as a payload in tweets. In an enterprise context, the beauty of annotations is that they can carry any sort of payload, so businesses can define their own data.
Interactions: Status updates have been messages. There are interesting opportunities to enable message to contain “actions” as well, like being able to share the message further. In a business context, an action might be a transaction like, for example, closing a support ticket.
Two-way Realtime: PubSubHubBub pushes feeds in realtime to subscribers over the network. WebHooks allow application developers to create event types that clients an subscribe to. This allows applications to keep data synchronized in realtime without constant polling. Salmon is a new protocol that uses PubSubHubBub and WebHooks to alert people of responses to their status updates, across the network.These new protocols enable realtime alerts and interactions, with web architecture that can cross organizational silos and boundaries.
Identity and Authentication: This is the area where the business and consumer worlds are the most different. In the enterprise world most good-sized organizations have a corporate directory using LDAP/ActiveDirectory for identity and auth credentials. Users need to access a defined set of applications behind a firewall; the solution is single signon, with SAML recently gaining some traction.
In the world of social/personal applications, Facebook has become a major identity provider, with OpenID based solutions competing as a distributed alternative; these options may converge as Facebook participates actively in the internet standards process. Instead of single signon, which is appropriate behind the firewall, the problem of the user needing to enter multiple usernames/passwords is solved with delegated authentication, using OAuth. As more enterprises want to use outside-the-firewall cloud applications, and more applications start to connect people across organizational boundaries, the internet standard stack may start to become more common for enterprises in the future.
Putting the pieces together
In order for this to work, these layers need to all work together. OStatus is a new initiative to test interoperability in use cases involving multiple parts of the stack. These protocols working together will enable people to engage in social interactions, across tools.
The central concept in making this vision real is that “social” is not a set of silo’d services with social features – it’s a layer that crosses multiple services. The way to bring this about is to support standards and interoperability. The social layer, connecting people across application and organizational silos, will enable organizations to solve business problems and get business value.