As internet-based technologies and streaming media shift the way that we consume and respond to information, software and web-based services companies are increasingly adapting their offerings toward social software. While the technologies that are driving much of today’s change have been around in some form or another for more than two decades, the speed of change continues to increase, and the ways that we work is quickly evolving.
While there is no crystal ball on what will happen in the space, several of the leading analyst firms are now watching the social software space more actively, with Gartner providing a Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace (see the Gartner site) including an overview that does a terrific job outlining the category:
Buyers in this market are looking for persistent virtual environments in which participants can create, organize and share information, as well as find, connect and interact with each other.
Business use of these products varies in its degree of formality and openness — from information sharing and project coordination within a small, homogeneous group, to the sharing of best practices within a business unit, to the encouragement of networking and information exchange between employees across a whole organization or with external participants in other organizations.
In general terms, products that compete in this market help users to:
- Find out about each other personally or professionally
- Mine their networks of contacts and acquaintances for advice, references and referrals
- Form teams, communities or informal groups, and invite external participants from other organizations
- Work together on the same work objects
- Discuss and comment on their work
- Organize work from their perspective
- Identify relevant work
- Discover other people with common interests
- Alert users to information or events that might be relevant to them
- Learn from others’ expertise
For those unfamiliar with Gartner’s Magic Quadrant model, generally speaking, you want to be in the upper right quadrant (called the Leaders quadrant) which highlights those companies that are proven front-runners in the space — and also most able to execute on their strategies. In the opposite, lower-left quadrant are companies who are more niche players, possibly serving specific industries or feature categories, and who are also less able to move on the market — due to their size, limitations of their model, or inability to gain sizeable market penetration.
Not surprisingly, the latest Magic Quadrant includes market leaders Microsoft, IBM, Jive and Salesforce.com, with recent Microsoft acquisition Yammer also making its presence known in the category. Outside of these players, the size and success of social platforms falls off considerably, yet the category is still wide open for innovation and upstarts — either to take a piece of the category, or as a target for acquisition.
The most valuable aspect of this analysis is the quick SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) in the sections below, providing insight into the strategies and effectiveness of each of the companies within the category.
One criticism of Gartner’s research (and many of the other research firms) is that their data and analysis tends to lack what is happening in the market. Reviewing Microsoft’s overview, I would say that this is case in the latest Gartner analysis, with Microsoft’s pending SharePoint 2013 release and updates to Office365 and SharePoint Online address many of the stated concerns over functionality and long lead-times between releases. As for pace of innovation, it is yet to be seen how Microsoft can adjust to the increasing market demands for almost real-time updates to software, but with Microsoft’s shift to an “online first” delivery model, the company recognizes this issue and seems to be taking strides to improve.
As with all analyst opinions, it is just that — opinion. As you make your plans to implement social software within your organization, you should weigh a number of factors, such as business requirements/needs, platform maturity, vendor viability (how long have they been in business, are they profitable), integration with other tools/platforms, and quality of support, among other considerations.