An Enterprise Collaborative Communities Roundup
What is the difference? A microblog is a service like Twitter that sends short bursts of text-only update messages out to a group of your co-workers. Both IBM and Oracle have developed their own Twitter-like application for internal uses, called BlueTwit and OraTweet respectively. Some other kinds of services combine messaging with a shared file repository so co-workers can collaborate on the same document in real time, and send text chats as they are working to help refine a document. Some of the microblogging services have added document sharing applications, so the line between the two is getting harder to distinguish.
With either type of service, there is little or no learning curve, they both ensure that any messages aren't seen by the public or searchable by Google, and in general take the Twitter experience to a more secured enterprise collaborative level. And they are quick to setup and mostly inexpensive (in some cases a limited free version is available). The chart below summarizes the best ones that we have found.
With any of these applications, your users will appreciate whether they can post messages from their cell phones via SMS, and we've listed those that do support this. Also, some of the applications support some form of directory integration with either LDAP or Microsoft's Active Directory so you don't have to recreate your entire user base from scratch―we've noted this support in the chart as well.
Staying in Touch
If your users are already familiar with Twitter, then probably the best place to start is with Identi.ca, which supports a wide range of Twitter clients to post and receive messages. Yammer is also close to the Twitter user experience and has the widest deployment and a very active user forum listing plenty of case studies here.
Socialcast has a wide range of integration tools, including email and iPhone, Google Gadget, bookmarklet, and real-time tracking to aggregate and view updates as they happen. They have a free version that is not secure, and will sell a separate enterprise version that you can install behind your own firewall. A similar arrangement is with the service Presentlyapp.com.
If you already have a self-hosted Wordpress blog, then take a look at Prologue, which has a Wordpress plug in that allows group posting, RSS feeds, tags, and more. This is another good place to start to experiment with microblogging features. Yonkly works with Facebook connect if that is of any interest. And its paid account can increase the status message limit to more than 140 characters. Free accounts can handle up to 10 users.
Qik is mainly for video sharing from mobile phones, if you have other uses in mind you are better off looking elsewhere.
Then there are the services that are primarily focused on sharing documents. A good place to start is the service Etherpad, which allows an ad-hoc group to collaboratively edit the same document in real time across the Internet. Each author's changes are assigned a different highlight color; similar to the way that Microsoft Word's Track Changes feature works. Authors can message each other within the system, and all you need is a Web browser. The free version isn't secure: anyone who knows the shared URL will be able to view and edit the document. They do sell a private network edition that you can run on your own Java-based servers behind a corporate firewall for $49 per user.
Socialtext has a wide collection of collaboration tools and offers three different versions: a free one that supports up to 50 users, a hosted version for more than 50 users that is $6 per month, per user, and an enterprise appliance that runs behind your firewall that is $1,000 plus $1 to $5 per month, per user. It includes a variety of applications, including wiki workspaces, distributed spreadsheets, and Signals, their closed-community Twitter-like tool, which is also available in the free version.
For an up-to-date comparision chart of what all these offerings and more have to offer, click here.A second combination service can be found from Content Circles. The screenshot below shows you their file sharing application, integrated contacts and messaging. They work with Active Directory and Sharepoint applications as well. Their service starts at $10 per month per user for the basic collection of applications.
Finally, Box.net started out as a file-sharing application and now has more than a dozen different integrated applications with Google's Gmail and Analytics, Outlook, eFax, and Facebook connect. They have an enterprise administration console that can help you keep track of your users and files, as you can see in this screenshot here:
As you can see, there are a lot of different ways to collaborate. The good news is that almost all of these applications have free trial versions that you can experiment with and see if it is something that your team can make use of. For an up-to-date comparision chart of what all these offerings have to offer, click here.
David Strom is a freelance writer living in St. Louis and the former editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, DigitialLanding.com, and Tom's Hardware.com. He has written two books and numerous articles on networking, the Internet, and IT security topics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his blog can be found at http://strominator.com.