I’ve been busy preparing for our Webinar tomorrow that provides a deeper dive into the workings of Socialtext Connect, a new offering that can surface critical events from applications and systems across an organization through Socialtext’s social software platform. Connect provides an easy to use interface to build lightweight applications and integrations with social features behind the firewall — something we believe greatly increases the overall business value of our products and existing systems of record.
In my mind, what makes Socialtext Connect especially unique is its embrace of open web standards and architectures behind the corporate firewall. These standards and frameworks have improved the experience we have as consumers on the public Web (with products like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Buzz), yet their potential in the enterprise is vast. We believe by harnessing many of the tools that have been proven on the open web we give our customers the benefits of greater agility to move data in and out of our platform (their platform), so that people can connect with the information they need faster so they can do their jobs better.
As we bring the open web behind the enterprise firewall, I wanted to provide some context for how and why we got here.
When I first joined Socialtext three years ago, I was very impressed by our team’s devotion to building our enterprise social software based on the principles of the Open Web. With a robust REST API, Socialtext provided a simple, approachable and powerful approach to integrating enterprise applications of all kinds. Not only could I use the API for administration, I could also create and modify content with it.
Since then, I have used the API to integrate a variety of different applications into Socialtext. These include an alternate interface for high-powered workspace editing, mailing lists integration, and subversion change notices. In addition, I’ve built a powerful system to automate testing of our product.
The great thing about a nice API is that it allows a customer to say, “Thank you for building this product, but I’m actually going to try using it in a new way that you didn’t think of.”
So when our team builds new features or products, we stay as close as we can to the principles of the Open Web to make it easy for that to happen. We first build an API around a core data model, and then we build our user interfaces on that. Layer architectures and easy APIs allow our customers to use our product in new ways we didn’t envision. The beauty of this is that learning what someone has done is becoming easy for people with some basic knowledge of Web development, or even those who can just hack a little bit of HTML, rather than difficult enterprise development language.
That’s pretty amazing, when you stop and think about it.
As we have built the various aspects of Socialtext Connect over the past years and months, we thought hard about how customers can make their existing business applications social. This has really come together nicely with a few open web technologies, which we rolled into Socialtext Connect. There are three really core technologies that form the basis for my excitement around Socialtext Connect.
- The first is Socialtext’s REST API, something close to my heart (and hand). But as @progrium points out, a REST API is only half of the necessary technology to create, as he calls it, “the evented web.”
- An equally important technology for a real-time, programmable, evented web is WebHooks. Webhooks allow other systems to receive notification on certain events. As it relates to the Socialtext platform, this means that it’s possible to have a completely external system receive updates for, say, every time a Signal (microblogging message) is sent to a specific group. With Connect, Webhooks has been expanded to a first class position in our API family, beside our REST API. That way, we can sent notifications for all interactions to the social objects we manage. The impacts of this on integrating line of business applications are huge!
- Finally, there are Twitter Annotations (which, in the enterprise, we call Signals Annotations). When Twitter first announced their new annotations feature, we immediately saw the power and possibility of this feature for the enterprise. Previously, we found it challenging to embed these types of payloads into our social framework. But when we saw Annotations, things just clicked. We’ve since used them as a core technology in some of our new features, such as image thumbnails for attachments to a signal. But using annotations to the end will pale in comparison to the integration possibilities this opens up to our customers.
These three technologies – REST, Webhooks and Annotations – reflect the spirit of the open web in the enterprise. And they all build on each other. Furthermore, they are the basis for supporting other protocols, such as Activitystrea.ms, PubSubHubbub and others.
During my career, I have often been in the role of toolsmith for my peers in that organization. One of the things I have found most rewarding is to watch them repurpose and use those tools for entirely new purposes I hadn’t thought of when I built them. I think this is what gets me so excited about Socialtext Connect; People can make awesome tools that can help their company in amazing ways.
Hope to see you all at Socialtext Connect Webinar this Wednesday. Click here to sign up!