Ringside Networks down for the count

CEO of Ringside Networks Bob Bickel reported on his blog last week that the company is ‘winding down’ and that those involved with the company would ‘move forward.’ The company’s website is still live and an inquiry as to whether or not the company has officially ceased operations has not yet been answered. But it appears that the start-up, which had planned an open source ‘social application server,’ is done. Bickel blames the company’s outcome on distraction due to potential acquisition by a ‘non-evil’ company — he provides some interesting detail, it’s worth a read.

We profiled the company back in April at the time of its fairly high-profile launch (451 Group clients can see that profile here). Its plan, to enable site owners to create mini-apps that would integrate with public social networks like Facebook, seemed a good one and its management team, mostly ex-JBoss and Bluestone Software execs, was certainly experienced.  Our best wishes to Bob and the others involved — I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ve heard from these guys or, probably, of this software.

This is the second recent enterprise open source social software / collab failure that pops to mind.  I also profiled German start-up Mindquarry last year (here for clients) that had some slick open source team collaboration software with all the social bells and whistles.  It also failed to get sufficient funding and the company founders eventually joined Day Software to develop the (proprietary) social software components of its Web content management line.

Update 9/30/2008 – Bob Bickel wrote to let me know that details on company operations are still be sorted out.  The Ringside open source code is still available on Sourceforge and will continue to be.

Open source at Enterprise 2.0

I attended a star-studded open source panel this morning, with Bob Bickel of Ringside Networks, Jeff Whatcott of Acquia and John Newton of Alfresco. The panel and audience members discussed adoption of open source specifically for social applications.

There was a bit of discussion on market readiness for open source in this sector. A comment came from the audience that Alfresco, the most established of the three vendors, started with an “easy target” – that is, replacing document management systems that were largely understood and seen as commodities. The same audience member noted that applying commercial open source to emerging social applications may be more difficult, as these are viewed as more strategically important for IT and management.

Ringside is really only just now getting started so it isn’t too far down the road in selling to enterprises, but Bickel came from JBoss and so recounted some of his experiences there with overcoming adoption hurdles at the application platform layer. Acquia is also a new company but it is attached to the popular Drupal project. Acquia hopes to help legitimize Drupal for the enterprise.

Other questions from the audience focused mostly on the complexity of deploying some open source tools (lack of documentation etc.) and licensing issues.

The issue of how little open source was represented at this conference, something I had also noticed, also came up. John Newton said he went from booth to booth on the show floor asking “are you open source?” He got few “yes” answers. Alfresco / Acquia were on the show floor along with a big Sun / MySQL booth but of the 52 vendors on in the demo pavilion, that was about it for vendors with primarily open source business models (a few like Socialtext and Jive Software dabble some in open source but it’s not their primary model).

It’s interesting that at a conference that was all about communities and user-generated content, the vendors represented didn’t have more of a focus on community-generated software. The emphasis in conference sessions and certainly among the vendors on the show floor was much more around software that is easy-to-procure and easy-to-deploy for business users…in other words, lots of SaaS.

Why? I met with John Newton after the panel and he said he thought it was just the vendors present, not a real reflection of the amount of social software currently deployed as open source. I think that’s true as most organizations definitely have WordPress, MediaWiki and Roller deployments but none of these tools were represented at the conference. (Aaron Fulkerson from MindTouch was there (commercial open source wiki vendor) but MindTouch didn’t have a booth.)

Jeff Whatcott also noted off-panel that he thinks the SaaS and open source models will advance in parallel in this market but there will eventually be a “come to Jesus” moment when organizations realize the benefits of community development and the need to have the flexibility to develop, integrate and customize this stuff. I agree that these two models will continue in parallel for awhile or perhaps more than awhile as there are likely to roles for both SaaS and open source in the social software (or collaboration) market for the foreseeable future.

Update: I neglected to mention in this post originally that John Eckman from Optaros did a wonderful job moderating this panel.  My oversight for not mentioning that.

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.