As social networking permeates our collective culture, enterprises are demanding more business-oriented tools to support social networks.
At the Dow Jones VentureOne Summit in Redwood City, California on February 26 attended by venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, the sessions and cocktail hour hummed with talk about collaboration. One particularly compelling panel addressed “Consumerprise: Just How Will Consumer Technologies be Utilized by the Enterprise.” The panel, moderated by Emily Westhafer of Dow Jones, included Antony Brydon, founder of Visible Path; J.B. Holston, CEO of Newsgator; Ajay Gandhi of BEA Systems and Peter Rip of Crosslink Capital. Participants discussed why many senior leaders of Fortune 1000 companies are interested in a “Facebook for the enterprise.”
Applications for enterprise-oriented social networking tools range from finding and collaborating with experts to increasing informal social interaction among colleagues. This, in turn, can break down barriers and enhance collaboration.
Despite their interest, many organizations are barring external social networking connections. This will evolve as the control paradigm wanes and organizational culture catches up with the tools. Companies in many industries have found that collaborating with business partners can create incredible value.
Peter Rip noted that his venture capital firm is looking for investments beyond Web 2.0 and is interested in “semantic web” deals for startups that focus on intelligent structuring of information. The idea here is that machines rather than people should handle more mundane tasks involved in finding, organizing and sharing information and that Web-based applications should understand what individuals want to know.
In his book, Weaving the Web: the Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee describes his 2-part dream for the Web’s future. The first part is that the Web becomes a more powerful way for people to collaborate. This is clearly happening. The second part is that “machines become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web—the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’ which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy, and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines,” Berners-Lee writes.
However, semantic web start-ups, says venture capitalist Peter Rip, must fit their solutions into the economic problems of the enterprise. This may sound obvious, but too often start-ups push solutions to enterprises without considering how the tools fit work styles, culture and enterprise initiatives.