Most company intranets are little better than corporate newsletters: static, lifeless, boring. “You know what the most visited corporate intranet page is?” asks Eugene Lee, CEO of Socialtext. “The cafeteria lunch menu.”
Socialtext, a nine-year-old company based in Palo Alto, California, aims to make the corporate intranet sexy again. In the process it is changing the way silo-bound corporate citizens collaborate.
Enterprise social technologies often do only a few things well, although many are rapidly adding features and integrating with larger applications to try to be everything to everyone. Employees use popular services like Yammer and Socialcast—often on their own initiative—for Twitter-style microblogging and Facebook-like social networking, for instance. Socialtext wraps that kind of “activity stream” and social network together with a host of others features, including blogs, wikis, document-collaboration workspaces, and tags that help people find information and experts on a topic.
A feature called Socialtext Signals allows employees to post, in 1,000 characters or less, status updates and messages to everyone at the company, to a particular working group, or to an individual. The stream of posts works like Facebook’s News Feed, occupying a position front and center on an employee’s dashboard-like home page. Each post, or signal, is part of a threaded conversation in which employees can respond to comments, add links to content, and tag information.
Rather than being made up of random posts about what someone ate or read, most Socialtext entries are created automatically as a result of collaboration with other people. These “in the flow of work” updates happen whenever someone does something productive in Socialtext that others in the company should know about—comments on a blog post, responds to a question, edits a wiki page, or tags a profile. The idea is that people demonstrate their value to the company not by what they say about themselves but by what they do.
In addition to traditional information like a person’s title, location, and department, tags can display work-related experience, areas of expertise, working-group affiliations, and interests. Employees can tag each other’s Socialtext profiles with information as well.
The software isn’t staging a popularity contest, however. It’s all about productivity: no “friending” at work. Socialtext has adopted Twitter’s approach, in which users choose to follow other users. The service works through a Web browser, a desktop application, and mobile devices, and it can be hosted on the cloud or in a company’s data center.
Already, Socialtext customers like Getty Images and the American Hospital Association (AHA) have replaced their intranet home pages with a Socialtext dashboard. Before the AHA implemented Socialtext, employees found it hard to collaborate with each other on issues of health-care reform, says Karthikeyan Chakkarapani, director of technology solutions and operations. He says the company was using up to 15 software-as-a-service applications to facilitate collaboration.
Before deciding on Socialtext, Chakkarapani looked at a half-dozen other similar applications, including Yammer, Jive Software, and Salesforce.com Chatter. “The problem is no one had an open architecture,” he says. “With Socialtext, we were able to integrate it into our other enterprise applications and build a one-stop platform that people can easily access.” The features that AHA employees use most frequently include the activity stream and wikis.