5 Web Applications to Watch in the Enterprise

By Elizabeth Millard  |  Posted 2008-09-24

For both employee interaction and marketing to customers, enterprises are drawing on the social networking and community capabilities of Web 2.0. Within the next few years, this trend should get even hotter, believes Gartner analyst Adam Sarner, who predicts that by 2010, over 60 percent of Fortune 1000 companies with Web sites will have some form of community functionality in the applications used by employees and customers. Here's a handful that could make some noise in an already crowded market.

Microblogging tools are worth watching, notes Forrester Senior Analyst Jeremiah Owyang. "Tools like Yammer, ESME, and many others have started to appear, giving remote teams the ability to communicate somewhere between IM and emails," he says.

At Yammer, the main question for users is "what are you working on?" As a company's employees answer that question, a feed is created that funnels content to a central location, where colleagues can check the status of projects, ask questions, share links, and post news.

The tool can also act as a company directory, since every employee can create a profile. Plus, when they post project updates, those micro-blogs are linked to their profile, giving co-workers and the employee the ability to reference past discussions or work.

In true social networking fashion, anyone in a company can start a Yammer network and begin inviting colleagues. According to Yammer, privacy is maintained by limiting access to those with a valid company email address.

The site was founded by former executives of PayPal, eGroups, eBay, and Tribe, and has strong VC backing, so it's likely to become more prominent in the future, Owyang posits. Plus, the basic service is free, so a company can try it out without much budget risk.

Another up-and-coming tool that enterprises should look at is GetSatisfaction, Owyang says, since it centralizes support for many products in one locations.

"It's a groundswell movement, where people can get support from each other, rather than going to corporate websites."

Although this isn't the type of tool to be used internally at enterprises, it should be of interest to any company that offers customer support, and wants to understand how social networking can mesh with those efforts.

Unlike a Web 2.0 consumer opinion site like Epinions or a marketing service like PowerReviews, GetSatisfaction seems to be more geared toward the community support model, in which people solve problems through collaboration and can, in turn, be connected to the company in question.

For example, a user complained that his messages don't go through on Flutter. Not only did other users ask about the same problem, but a company representative also replied. Use of tools like this might actually cut down on customer support calls, because in theory it's like creating a FAQ with every new question or issue.

In June, Socialcast got a fresh upgrade to its corporate social networking software that could make it more compelling for enterprises that want to link to outside, third-party services like Twitter and YouTube.

Built on a SaaS platform, Socialcast 2.0 enables users to pull content from the other sites they visit and link them together into one collaborative space. The app allows for imports from Del.icio.us, Digg, Google Reader, LinkedIn, and others.

The goal, according to the company, is to reduce unproductive communications, by letting each employee decided how they want to find and use information.

In other words, if a company's employees are already using a large number of social networking tools, they may be clogging up the email system in sending links, and squandering work time. Instead, they can share info company-wide, in a way that's similar to Twitter, but without the consumer focus of that tool.

Bill Ives, at the blog AppGap -- which focuses on software tools that foster organization and collaboration -- notes that Twitter isn't an "enterprise 2.0" app, since it doesn't have features that appeal to CIOs. He notes, "Socialcast has taken on this challenge and now provides the micro-blogging capabilities found within Twitter in a form that is optimized for enterprise use."

Dotster Connect
Another intriguing social networking play, Ives believes, is Dotster, a provider of Internet business services and developer of Dotster Connect, an app that's similar to MySpace or Facebook, but enterprise appropriate.

"[S]etting up a group on a site like Facebook leaves all control over transparency, ad selection, ad placement, features, and data in the hands of a company with a different set of objectives," Ives notes on AppGap.

By contrast, Dotster Connect's enterprise edition allows for integration with other enterprise applications, and can be open to search engines if a company wants a more public-facing tool, or closed if it prefers to use the features internally.

Much like a consumer site like MySpace, the application offers user home pages, "friending," voting on content submitted by other members, photo albums, video downloads, and instant messaging. The tool can help facilitate meetings by moderating discussions, as well.

Build Your Own Application
Although there are numerous choices for Web 2.0 apps in the marketplace, and more being developed all the time, many enterprises are likely to do in-house development in order to meet their specific needs.

One major example is IBM's Beehive, an internal social networking site that gives employees the ability to connect with each other by posting personal photos, creating lists of favorite items, and organizing events.

In general, the creation of technology will depend on the purpose, says Gartner's Sarner. "You will have to plan on a range of tools, so there's no one, uber-social-tool out there," he says. "Things like Facebook can work for branding and awareness, while product reviews, messageboards, etc. are moving internally."

Enterprises are looking at consumer applications like Twitter and Facebook and asking their IT team to build a business-ready app that can draw on that type of social networking, notes Michael Gartenberg, Vice President at Jupitermedia.

"We're on the cusp of this architecture, where enterprises are able to look at the Web 2.0 technology umbrella and think about how they can adapt it to their business," he says. "It's an exciting time, and I think it will only get more interesting going forward."