I have been a fan of NewsGator for some time as they were my first RSS reader in early 2004 (see Finally, I’m Scanning the Web through NewsGator) so I want to share my interview from the AppGap. I then spoke with Greg Reinacker, their founder, in June 04 about their early enterprise use (see NewsGator’s Movement from Aggregator Application to Enterprise Platform) and his blog was included as a case in my business blog book. So I was very pleased to see that they have greatly expanded their offering beyond RSS to a comprehensive suite of social networking tools. Last week I spoke with J.B. Holston, their President and CEO, and Ashley Roach, Product Manager,about their comprehensive offering.
NewsGator has always been close to Microsoft as their RSS reader integrates with Outlook. After they moved more broadly into the enterprise social networking space, Microsoft asked them to focus their application suite on making SharePoint a better social computing platform. They continue to closely work with Microsoft and have already enhanced Social Sites to work well with SharePoint 2010. They maintain their RSS capabilities for non-SharePoint users [apr1]but Social Sites is primarily targeted toward SharePoint. I think this is a good choice given the very large number of SharePoint implementations. It is often the de facto social computing platform in many enterprises. NewsGator’s Social Sites greatly enhances SharePoint’s ability to maintain this position.
J.B. and Ashley walked me through the many components of Social Sites that can be integrated with SharePoint. Their customizable Social Networking Framework enhances the SharePoint “My Site” experience and provides a number of Facebook-like features behind the firewall. We looked at Ashley’s version that you see below.
You can see an auto-generated activity stream for both Ashley and those other individuals he selects that shows what people are doing within the system. You can select the sources for the stream, including external activity streams like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. There is also a Twitter-like status field for individuals to write what they are doing or interested in as well as the ability to see the status fields of others you select. There is a lot of other content on the page as you can see and you have one-click access to this content or to relevant tags leading to more content. The profile page also displays recommended content, colleagues and all SharePoint-based feeds. You can see aggregated tag clouds, relevant/popular content and active users.
Communities are a core concept and feature. It is very easy to start one. You can see the page for a Media and Entertainment Practice Community below. There are multiple tabs that indicate some of the functionality: discussion, feeds, bookmarks, members, documents, wiki, blog, and ideas (innovation management which will be discussed more later). On the overview page you can see recent community actions, related communities, and community members, as well as related tags. You can discover communities through tags, search and recommended content.
The Innovation Management capability integrates the innovation management process with your enterprise social network. It enables employees to create campaigns, submit ideas, comment on ideas, vote for ideas, and manage a basic innovation life-cycle. Users can easily track innovation management with activity stream integration and the My Ideas web part.
There is a Profile Builder that is an on-boarding wizard. It helps new, transferred, or promoted employees to shorten their on-boarding time by both making it easy to create a new profile and then through using their profile features to expand their network. It uses a pop-up wizard to expedite a new user’s ability to create profiles, find communities, and connect with colleagues. Recommend tags (keywords) for employee profiles are provided to ease location of subject matter experts and to better understand the many communities within the larger enterprise.
You can see the first of the three-part profile builder process below. Step one is Tag Me, step two is Group Me, and step three is Connect Me. At each steps suggestions are provided based on the individual’s use of the system.
The system provides dynamic content discovery through public and private tags, search, and recommended content. Users also receive updates from colleagues and communities. Users can gain a better understanding of the work patterns in the community through seeing the normal content interactions. Extensive reporting helps generate this understanding. There is access to hundreds of data views for insight into users, groups, communities, tags, and feed activity. You can export reports for use with Microsoft Office Excel or any other reporting engines. In addition, you can share dashboard views and email summaries for quick access to business metrics.
The Knowledge Explorer seen below is another way to explore the relationships between content and between people and content. It is targeted to be available in Fall 2009. Primarily based on crowd sourcing techniques, topic-people relationships are established. You can navigate the topics that an individual is deemed an expert in using a tag cloud and a network diagram. Ultimately, you can then discover the related artifacts to that topic and person.. You can drill down through these visualizations to find the details beneath.
There is more and the user interface can be customized. You also have administration control over: both what features are made available, which ones are optional or required, and where they are placed. What this means is that you can choose to deploy on different SharePoint versions, and choose to enable the components of Social Sites depending on your company’s needs. For example, you can implement the Innovation Management functionality without exposing the other features. These features and components I have described all sit within SharePoint and make it a stronger player in the social computing market. This is a welcome addition to the SharePoint market, and through it to the broader enterprise 2.0 market.
We also discussed how many of the major implementation issues are around people and process, and not technology. NewsGator has made the technology simple but the rich feature set opens up a wide range of decisions about how best to deploy the tools and how they impact business processes. This has always been the case with new technology but it seems even more pronounced as the technology becomes simpler, on one hand, and, on the other hand, more powerful in the ways it effects the interactions between people. NewsGator’s Enterprise Practice Management group helps customers with these challenges by using their own social computing strategy process. It helps customers first define their business goals and then implement the technology features that best meet those objectives. I can agree with this.