It’s well known that Microsoft relies heavily on partners to help develop extensions or integrations to their software. That doesn’t mean however, that they sit back and wait for the cool tools to come to them. Such is the case with social networking. At the Enterprise 2.0 conference last week they demoed a social networking solution they had been testing internally called TownSquare.TownSquare is a business-user-focused social networking tool that was developed by Microsoft Office Labs, Microsoft’s internally development lab that tests applications and platforms. According to Microsoft, TownSquare is an enterprise news feed used internally to allow employees to receive updates on managers, friends and colleagues at work and what they are doing.
The prototype, shown below, does look very similar to Facebook. Microsoft TownSquare
The application has been in use internally at Microsoft since January. It was initially rolled out to a small group of users. It has since grown to have over 8,000 users with an active daily use of about 700 users.
Prior to the reveal at the Enterprise 2.0 conference, Office Labs general manager Chris Pratley spoke with Computer World about the prototype. He indicated that the feeds use web services to query SharePoint for public information and displays this news in the TownSquare application. You can get notifications on employee information or on changes to documents. The feed is customizable and a user can monitor who is viewing information about them.
In the article Pratley says the prototype is not a product, “but a platform to test the technology concepts. By hammering out the various likes and dislikes of its users before releasing a product, "We're trying to get version-three goodness into a first release," he added.”
He also indicated that some of their clients are testing the prototype – although he wouldn’t divulge who.
It’s good to know that Microsoft is working on its own version of a social networking solution to integrate with SharePoint. Even though there are a number of vendors offering integration of their own solutions with SharePoint – Awareness, NewsGator, Atlassian -- not everyone wants to go out and buy a product from another vendor to get this functionality. We have come expect that Microsoft will need to provide its own social computing tools to ensure it stays competitive in the Web 2.0 market.