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Microblogging Will Marginalize Corporate Email

In case you missed it last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt had this to say about the microblogging service Twitter:

Speaking as a computer scientist, I view all of these as sort of poor man’s email systems. In other words, they have aspects of an email system, but they don’t have a full offering. To me, the question about companies like Twitter is: Do they fundamentally evolve as sort of a note phenomenon, or do they fundamentally evolve to have storage, revocation, identity, and all the other aspects that traditional email systems have? Or do email systems themselves broaden what they do to take on some of that characteristic?

At first blush, this seemed like an example of Google not ‘getting it’ when it comes to Twitter (see the comments to the linked blog post above). But I think he’s actually on to something. It is a new way of posting notes about what you’re doing, but it also has a lot of communications usage via @replies and direct messages (DMs).

Reflecting both on Schmidt’s statement, and my own use of Yammer at my company, I’m seeing that microblogging is slowly replacing a lot of my email activity.

As more companies take up microblogging with services like Yammer, Socialcast, Present.ly and SocialText Signals, employee communications amongst employees will both increase and divert away from email. Something like this:

microblogging-marginalizes-email

Socialcast’s Tim Young said this about email:

Email is dead. If your company is relying on email for communication and collaboration, your company is walking dead in this new economy.

Being the CEO of Socialcast, that’s not a surprising statement. But I think he’s more right than wrong.

The shift I describe applies regardless of the microblogging application used. Since I’m actually familiar with Yammer as a user, I’ll talk about its features in the context of this shift.

Yammer Follows the Innovator’s Dilemma Path

A useful context for thinking about Yammer versus corporate email is Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma. Generally, the premise is that incumbent companies need to grow and increase the functionality of their products. This increases the products’ complexity and cost, but also increases margins. But as the incumbents are doing this, it opens an opportunity at the lower end of functionality for new companies to come in and attack the incumbents’ base. From Wikipedia, here’s a graphic that demonstrates the concept:

innovators-dilemma-disruption-graph

A useful way to think about the Innovator’s Dilemma in the enterprise software space comes from this blog post, Enterprise Software Innovator’s Dilemma. Existing vendors expand the functionality of their products, heavily relying on the requests of large customers. Over time, this has the effect of creating a robust, highly functional and more expensive offering. This trend is what opens the door for new vendors to come in.

Let’s consider Yammer in this context. Simple microblogging runs along the “low quality use” in some ways. At least in terms of the feature set. But it certainly takes “use case share” away from email.

If all you could do was make public notes, that’s the end of the story. Microblogging does not replace email. But these guys are advancing their product, and are rising up the performance axis.

Here is what Yammer now offers:

  • Behind the firewall installation
  • Public notes
  • @replies
  • DMs
  • Groups
  • Private groups
  • File attachments
  • Favorites (a form of bookmarking)
  • Tagging
  • Conversation threading
  • Unlimited character length (i.e. not limited to 140 characters)
  • Search

Look at that list. When you think about your own internal email usage, what ‘s missing? Folders or the Gmail equivalent of tags seem to be something for the down the road. I’m not an IT manager, so I’m sure there are some heavy duty infrastructure aspects of Microsoft Exchange/Outlook and Lotus Notes that are not there. Thus, Yammer still has the insurgent, disruptor profile relative to corporate email.

But don’t underestimate that. There’s what IT knows is needed behind the scenes. and then there’s what the users actually do when given the different applications.

Expanding Communications, Marginalizing Email

Microblogging’s premise is that public proclamations of what you’re doing and information that you find are a new activity for people, and they have value. Information is shared much more easily and in-the-flow of what we’re all doing anyway. In an office setting, I continue to find the way Dave Winer describes it quite useful: narrating your work.

This use case is what promises to dramatically increase communications among employees. As we’re seeing with Twitter’s explosive growth, it takes time for people to grok why they should microblog. But once they “get it”, it takes off.

So services like Yammer have your attention as you post updates and read what others post. In reaction to what someone posts, you hit the Reply button. You’re having a conversation that others can see, and join in if they want. You decide to have separate conversation with someone in this context. Do you open up your email? Or just click “Private Message” to someone? I’m willing to bet you’ll do the latter.

Which starts the marginalization of corporate email. Why? Because a lot of what’s going to generate interactions is occurring right on that microblogging app you’re looking at. It’s the most natural thing to act in-the-flow and use that application in lieu of email. Well-designed microblogging applications are also quite seductive in terms of ease-of-use.

As I’ve written before, email’s role changes in this scenario. The logical end use cases are:

  • Notifications
  • External communications

This isn’t something that’s imminent. Email is quite entrenched in daily workflow, older generations aren’t likely to stop using it and internal microblogging is still nascent.

But no one said the Innovator’s Dilemma plays out over the course of a couple years. It will take time. But watch the trends.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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The Top 10 Enterprise 2.0 Stories of 2008

The enterprise 2.0 space saw good action this year. I’ve had a chance to see it up close, starting the year with BEA Systems (now Oracle) and closing out the year with Connectbeam. I think it’s fair to say that in 2007, social software was still something of a missionary sale. In 2008, company inquiries increased a lot. The burden still falls on the vendors to articulate business benefits, adoption strategies and use cases. But enterprise customers are now partners in this work.

So let’s get to it. Here are my top ten stories for the year:

1. Activity Streams

Facebook really got this going with its newsfeed, and FriendFeed took it to an art form with its lifestreaming service. In 2008, many vendors added activity streams to their applications: Connectbeam, BEA Systems, Atlassian, SocialText, Jive Software and others.  Activity streams are great for improving awareness of colleagues’ activities, and adding a new searchable object: actions.

2. Forrester’s $4.6 Billion Forecast

Forrester Research made a splash with its forecast that Enterprise 2.0 will be a $4.6 billion market by 2013. The ReadWriteWeb story about it has been bookmarked to Del.icio.us 386 times and counting. Forrester’s projections provided a solid analytical framework for the different tools, used internally and externally. According to the analysis, social networking will be the most popular tool for companies. Whether you buy the forecast or not, they remain the best-known, most visible numbers to date.

3. Oracle Beehive

Larry Ellison is fond of essentially dismissing SaaS. He does not have Oracle invest much in the trend. But Oracle did seem to embrace Enterprise 2.0 in a big way this year with Beehive, which is an “integrated set of collaboration services.”  The New York Times quotes Oracle EVP  Chuck Rozwat: “It is a product we built from scratch over the last three years.” Now since Oracle is a huge enterprise software company, there’s plenty of skepticism about the capabilities and innovation of Beehive. But there’s no denying that Oracle has the ear of the enterprise, and picks up a lot of market intelligence through its customer base. While Beehive itself may or may not succeed, the idea that Oracle came out with Beehive was a big story.

4. AIIM/McKinsey Surveys

Research and consulting firms AIIM and McKinsey each came out with surveys of corporate interest in enterprise 2.0. The AIIM survey looked at levels of awareness and interest among different Enterprise 2.0 technologies. AIIM also took a fairly expansive view of social software. The top 3 “Enterprise 2.0” technologies in terms of corporate awareness? Email, instant messaging, search. That’s actually a funny list, yet there are lessons there for vendors and consultants in the social software industry. If those are entrenched, can you play nicely with them? One other quote I like from the report:

This study of 441 end users found that a majority of organizations recognize Enterprise 2.0 as critical to the success of their business goals and objectives, but that most do not have a clear understanding of what Enterprise 2.0 is.

McKinsey’s survey of enterprises looked at the interest in various tools as well. It also asked respondents what the leading barriers were for success of social software initiatives. Top three were: (1) Lack of understanding for their financial return; (2) Company culture; (3) Insufficient incentives to adopt or experiment with the tools.

5. Facebook Co-Founder Leaves to Start an Enterprise 2.0 Company

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and colleague Justin Rosenstein announced they were leaving the hot consumer social network to start a new company. The new company will “build an extensible enterprise productivity suite,” with the goal of “making companies themselves run better.” Why would these young guys, sitting on top of the leader in consumer social networking, choose to exit? As I wrote at the time:

The Enterprise 2.0 market is still quite nascent and fragmented. Combine that industry profile with projected spending in the category, and suddenly you understand why these guys are striking out on their own.

Assuming they’ll be able to tap the mother ship for help, I think this was a fairly important story this year.

6. Microblogging Enters the Enterprise

Joining wikis, blogs, social bookmarking and other incumbent tools this year was microblogging . Given the way Twitter is used by Enterprise 2.0 aficionados, and is enjoying skyrocketing popularity, it’s no surprise we started seeing microblogging emerge for internal use. At the mostly consumer-focused TechCrunch50, enterprise microblogging start-up Yammer won the top prize. Other start-ups in the category include SocialCast and Present.ly. SocialText added microblogging with its release of Signals.

7. Gartner Narrows its Criteria for Social Software

Gartner came out with its Social Software Magic Quadrant in October. As SageCircle notes:

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is probably the iconic piece of analyst research. With its visibility and status, it also has enormous influence on vendor sales opportunities, especially when it comes time for IT buyers to draw up the all-important vendor short lists.

So it was with great interest when I read that Gartner had narrowed the criteria for whom it puts in the Magic Quadrant:

Added blogs and wikis to the functionality requirements

The effect of that is to establish those two tools as the de facto standard for enterprise social software inside the enterprise. To the extent corporate buyers are listening to Gartner for signals about the market, this will make it a bit more challenging for start-ups with interesting offerings that address other parts of the social software market. Yammer, for instance, won’t make it into their Magic Quadrant.

8. Enterprise RSS Fails to Take Off

RSS is one of those technologies that you know has huge value, and yet continues to struggle for awareness and adoption. Google tracks the leading “what is” searches. The fifth most popular on its list? “What is RSS?” Take that as both good and bad. Good that people want to know, bad that awareness continues to be a struggle.

Forrester analyst Oliver Young has a sharp write-up that shows enterprise RSS did not expand inside companies as many had thought it would this year. As he notes:

Of the three enterprise RSS vendors selling into this space at the start of 2008: KnowNow went out of business completely; NewsGator shifted focus and now leads with its Social Sites for SharePoint offering, while its Enterprise Server catches much less attention; and Attensa has been very quiet this year.

RSS is a great way to distribute content inside companies, but its ongoing limited adoption was a big non-story for the year.

9. IBM and Intel Issue Employee Social Media Guidelines

IBM and Intel each established guidelines for their employees who participate in social media. As I wrote, this essentially was a deputization of employees as brand managers out on the web. These market leaders were essentially saying, “have at it out there on blogs, social networks, Twitter, etc. But make sure you know the company’s expectations.” These guidelines represent a milestone in large enterprises’ comfort with social media. I expect we’ll see more of this in 2009.

10. The Recession

This affects all industries, globally, of course. And Enterprise 2.0 is no exception. Jive Software made news with its layoffs, but the effect was industry-wide. And of course, corporate buyers aren’t immune either.

Those are my ten. Did I miss a big story for 2008? Add your thoughts in the comments.

If you’re interested in tracking what happens in 2009, I encourage you to join the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed. It is a centralized location for tweets and Del.icio.us bookmarks that specifically relate to Enterprise 2.0.

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