Industry veterans heading into social software

We don’t generally comment on executive changes specifically, unless there is something particulalry newsworthy about them.  We save such info for our overall company and business updates that go out as part of our Market Insight Service.

But two such announcements in the social software realm in one day seems noteworthy, particularly as they come from direct competitors.

Telligent Systems has a new CEO, Patrick Brandt, who replaces co-founder Rob Howard in the role.  Howard will continue as CTO.  Brandt was previously CEO of document output vendor Skywire Software, which was acquired by Oracle a year ago.

Jive Software has a new CMO, Ben Kiker, who has been CMO at Interwoven for the last several years and prior to that held roles at Siebel and Onyx.  The colorful Sam Lawrence, Jive’s previous CMO, left the company in March as part of what CEO Dave Hersh described as the company’s transition from a ‘big small company’ to a ‘small big company.’

Besides being announced on the same day, what else do these appointments have in common?

  • Both execs were recently part of M&A events, since Autonomy acquired Interwoven in January.
  • Both companies took sizable amounts of VC money — Telligent got a $20m investment from Intel Capital in September 2008 and Jive took $15m from Sequoia Capital in August 2007.  How much did that have to do with bringing in these more seasoned execs?  Often, it does quite a lot.  Much of Jive’s exec team has been replaced in the past year, many with ex-Mercury Interactive folks, after Tony Zingale, former President and CEO of Mercury Interactive, joined Jive’s board in February 2007.
  • Telligent and Jive are among the most promising of the independents at work in enterprise social software.  Bringing in more experienced enterprise software execs is hardly surprising and makes sense.

Different fortunes in social software

This economy is tough stuff for lots of small software vendors, but perhaps particularly those that are selling “improved productivity” or “enhanced collaboration” in the face of frozen IT budgets.  All is not doom and gloom however.  For example, Jive Software announced today that Q1 was its best quarter ever with 100% year-over-year revenue growth and its second quarter of being cash-flow positive.

Jive seems to be more the exception than the rule though as far as social software goes.  We know Mzinga has had two rounds of layoffs and a CEO change in recent months as it works towards profitability.  Similarly, Socialtext also had a small layoff and took additional funding — taking Socialtext’s total funding to about $18m.

What’s the difference between these vendors?  Some of it is technology certainly, but also a clarity of message.  I think Jive was early to market with what it is now calling “social business software” — in other words, a product that combines functions from multiple point tools (e.g., forums, wikis, social networking).   And Jive is playing in the big leagues versus large vendors selling enterprise deals for collaboration.  Selling deals for external, customer community sites also helps, as some of the external initiatives funded from marketing budgets are holding up better than large internal collab deals.

And from my perspective as an analyst in the content management realm, I also see a lot of WCM vendors coming out with more legit social software products – Day Software and EPiServer are two recent ones that come to mind.  How will these products fare as part of broader WCM suites?  Will they be the de facto choice for customers that use WCM products from these vendors?  Or has the market gone a different direction?  This is something I’ve blogged about before, but the social products from WCM vendors are getting stronger so the issue is becoming more real.

The noise in the enterprise social software market has certainly begun to die down and that is a good thing.  Looking forward to Enterprise 2.0 this year and the chance to hear more about what’s working and what’s not.

Jive talk and social software

I was glad to see this post from Tony Byrne this morning with a more practical reaction to Jive’s layoffs.  I had been meaning to get something similar up myself.  Jive has grown quickly– from 43 employees when we first profiled the company in March 2007 to 160 in August of this year.  Maybe that growth was too far out ahead of revenue, but I can’t say that for sure and I don’t think anyone really foresaw how radically things were going to change economically or how quickly.

Staffing up for anticipated future growth and then scaling back when that growth is expected to be slow due to overall (unprecedented) market conditions seems like prudence to me, however unfortunate for those involved.  Jive took $15m in venture funds from Sequoia in September 2007 and unless your Internet was unplugged last week, you know how Sequoia is advising its portfolio companies.

More generally, I agree with Tony when he says “I don’t foresee a decline in the social software space that’s any steeper than we’ll see in other software categories.”  That is to say, it’s going to take a hit — most everything and everyone is really — but it’s not going to disappear.  I don’t really buy the rah-rah outlook either (no real irony intended by linking to a post from Jive’s Sam Lawrence here, it’s just a good exmaple) that says social software will let us work more cost effectively and transparently and thus do more with less. This may be true in some cases, but growth is going to slow all the same.  I think companies like Jive that have started to gain real name reconigition in the enterprise market, with many big name customers, will come through ok, though I’m not forecasting here which will remain independent.

I may not be quite as optimistic as Tony though. We make a particular effort here at The 451 Group to talk to all the start-ups, and there are too many of them with too similar “community” or social networking platforms for the enterprise.  Sometimes after I meet with a company, I decide not to write it up because it just sounds too similar to XYZ company I profiled last week.  I think this was generally felt by most everyone that walked the show floor at Enterprise 2.0 here in Boston last June.  As funding becomes more scarce and IT spending slows, some of these won’t make it, plain and simple, which is probably as it should be.

Enterprise 2.0: the good and the bad

After four and a half days, twenty meetings, one heat wave and lots of hot tea (too much A/C), the second Enterprise 2.0 show is over. It’s a lot to cram into a summary-style blog post but here it goes:

What was interesting (mostly chronological and certainly not comprehensive):

  • Microsoft vs. IBM demo-duel on Monday and the buzz that carried through the week about it (people were still asking me today what I thought). General consensus? IBM knocked it out of the park but it probably doesn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things.
  • IBM’s indication that it will include full RSS feed aggregation technology in the next version of Lotus Connections — not the 2.0 version that is just now shipping but the one that is likely to ship at this time next year. Discussions on the show floor last night with some IBM folks lead me to believe there is still some uncertainty as to what this actually means but Jeff Schick, IBM Vice President, Social Computing Software told me in a one-on-one meeting yesterday that IBM will go full-bore into feed aggregation in the next release.
  • Demo of NewsGator Social Sites. I’ve seen this before but it was interesting to see it on Monday afternoon, just hours after the Microsoft folks gave what can only be described as a weak SharePoint demo. Why didn’t they show Social Sites, since they included other partner technologies?
  • Discussion with Rob Curry of the Microsoft SharePoint team. He noted that for the next version of SharePoint (expected late in 2009 as part of Office 14), they doubled the development teams on ECM and social software. I told him I thought feed aggregation and wikis are the most obvious areas in need of major advancement in SharePoint and he would only say I would be ‘pleased’ with the next release.
  • Meeting with Tom Jenkins, Chief Strategy Officer at Open Text. Open Text had a big presence at the conference this year, an indication of the degree to which it has re-entered the collaboration market after several years of near exclusive focus on archiving, records management and compliance. What this means for the company’s SharePoint integration strategy remains to be seen.
  • Jabs traded by Sam Lawrence of Jive Software and Lawrence Liu, SharePoint Technical Product Manager at Microsoft on a panel yesterday about social computing platforms. The content itself wasn’t all that interesting but at least Sam added some humor and Lawrence is an eminently good sport.
  • Catch-up meeting with Atlassian and a discussion of how Confluence, JIRA and Atlassian’s other developer tools tie to a single sales strategy to technical teams. This was followed in the general ballroom by a session given by Ned Lerner from Sony Computer Entertainment, which showed, among other things, how core Confluence and JIRA are in their game development processes.
  • Socialtext SocialCalc — this is interesting though I haven’t yet had a chance to view the demo.
  • Open source panel this morning.

What wasn’t:

  • Too much discussion of cultural change, barriers to adoption and best practices. These are all useful and much-needed topics, don’t get me wrong. But most of the sessions I joined on Tuesday and Wednesday were variations on these themes. I didn’t go to all of them to be sure, but I went to more than a few and seemed to be hearing much of the same content over and over. As Vishy put it: “If anybody says viral one more time I’m gonna sneeze.”
  • I was hoping for more discussion on integration strategies, platforms vs. point tools, profiles / identity management, standards, deployment in customer-facing environments and so forth. A layer or two deeper I guess than most of the sessions went. Maybe next year we’ll all be more able to have those conversations.
  • And speaking of next year, there were too many demos and vendor pitches this year that were extremely similar. How many will return next year? Or the year after? For that matter, for how many years will there be an “enterprise 2.0” conference before this stuff just becomes everyday?
  • Most of the more technical sessions were held today, Thursday the final half day of the conference after many folks were gone.
  • Like last year, most of the sessions were way too crowded with every seat filled. That’s a good thing for the vendors and the conference organizers, but not too comfortable or enjoyable for those in attendance.

That makes a longer list of things that were worthwhile than those that weren’t, making it, I would say, a well spent week. And there were lots of great hallway chats and opportunities to catch up. To anyone I was supposed to meet at some point and did not, please leave a comment or contact me directly.

Social software is getting more…social?

We’ve been busy lately increasing our coverage of social software vendors. In the last few weeks we’ve spoken with: Awareness, CollectiveX, Communispace, GroupSwim, HiveLive, Jive Software, Leverage Software, Lithium Technologies, Ringside Networks, Socialtext, Telligent Systems, and Wetpaint. Some of these meetings were triggered by new product launches and others were initiated by us, reaching out to begin coverage of vendors we hadn’t spoken with before. Most (but probably not all) of these have or will soon result in new or updated 451 coverage.

That’s quite a list and it’s only a list of who we’ve spoken with recently, not of all the vendors in this market and it doesn’t happen to include any of the larger players like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle.

So you have to ask, where is the differentiation? I don’t think that’s clear yet. Vendors are coming at this market from a particular area — like forums software or wikis — and tend to be targeting a particular types of implementations (BtoC social media vs. BtoE collaboration) so theoretically competitive products can be quite different under the covers (though often quite similar in marketing).

One thing that seems clear is that many vendors already in the social software realm are busy getting more social. By this I mean grafting on “social” aspects a la Facebook. This can be the ability to have user profiles and the ability to friend people or more sophisticated analysis of who knows what in order to connect users with similar knowledge or expertise.

Just a few recent examples:

Jive Software’s 2.0 release beefs up profiling and social networking capabilties.

The 3.0 release from Socialtext does the same.

Telligent added the ability to track activity data by user in Community Server 2008.

Wetpaint also added more social aspects recently.

Leverage Software has some interesting visualization technology applied to social networks.

Ringside wants to link public networks to business networks.

As vendors originally strong in wikis or forums software, for example, expand social networking and add other features, they’re much more in competition with each other than they once were. And organizations are likely to want to standardize to avoid profile proliferation, if nothing else.

I was talking with someone this morning about how many log-ins one large broadcaster has for its various customer/consumer communities (wikis, message boards etc.) and how it’s a high priority item for that company to fix it. That’s something we’ll no doubt hear more about as more and more products go social.



Is the portal the application?

This is a question I remember tossing around eight or nine years ago when I was an analyst tracking the enterprise portal market at Giga Information Group.

Those from the application integration world tended to see portals as empty frameworks (with authentication and customization services) into which apps or data sources could be plugged. But those (like me) that came from from the search and information access world saw a portal as encompassing more functionality in and of itself for collaboration, search and information access. So is the portal an entry point or a destination?

This question hasn’t reared its head in awhile since portal products were mostly subsumed into the application platforms of IBM, BEA and Oracle — as pretty generic portal frameworks. Even SAP’s portal has been mostly a UI to SAP’s apps as opposed to one itself.

But with the advent of social computing, the question seems to be returning. I met with open source portal play Liferay this week, a vendor that is busy adding social software capabilities to its portal. Liferay notes many customers, particularly in Europe, still looking for traditional portal framework capabilities, for the portal to serve as an aggregation point for accessing other apps.

Here in the US, Liferay is seeing more requests for integrated collaboration capabilities, like profiles, wikis, blogs and discussion forums, that are delivered to end users in the portal itself. The company is even toying with out how best to refer to its product in this new world. Is it still a portal?

Liferay isn’t the only portal vendor taking such steps. The BEA AquaLogic User Interaction group (the horribly named result of BEA’s 2005 Plumtree acquisition) has been busy adding social capabilities as well, packaged up in a new 6.5 release announced this week. It’s hard to know what to make of this, given the Oracle acquisitionMike Gotta goes so far as to ask “Should I Pay Attention to BEA?” and Janus Boye is equally pessimistic about the prospects for BEA’s two portal products. But the AquaLogic group has done a nice job enhancing that portal and Pathways is one of the only enterprise tagging tools on the market (Connectbeam has another).

BEA’s portals aren’t likely to fair well post acquisition because Oracle already has two of its own. But Oracle WebCenter is the one getting the social software enhancements and the one likely to be Oracle’s main pick going forward. SAP and Microsoft are others making portals more social.

What will be interesting to watch is how these portal-based approaches make out in the nascent market for enterprise social software. They’re potentially up against SaaS offerings and on-premise tools that don’t require the portal overhead.

A good example of this is the Clearspace product from Jive Software, which also revved this week to a 2.0 version (and incidentally added customizable start pages to which users can add widgets…sound like the start of a portal?). With these new products, are we eliminating the services of the portal framework – authentication/single sign-on, customization, integration? Or maybe just the portal name?