Years ago, when I first started working with customers on the concept of Intranets and corporate portals, people looked to the World Wide Web for a definition of what they wanted. In a discovery session with a client, one of the VPs said, “You know that new thing out there….the one where you can move your stuff around…you know, MyYahoo? That’s what we want.”

The customer was trying to put together an intranet to support a self-serve human resource site and a general knowledge base for all employees. Based on the VP’s statement, I dug deeper into what he wanted and why. The number one reason for wanting the “MyYahoo” functionality was because “it’s cool and everyone talks about how they can setup their own personal pages.”

Further analysis of the customer’s actual needs included a very straightforward search and retrieval mechanism for all company-public HR documents, search and retrieval for common knowledge documents, and an easy way for employees to add new knowledge documents. With the VP’s direction, the organization added to the requirements for allowing users to have their own saved searches, share searches with other people, see all they documents they have submitted, see documents from other specific people, and then have all of these functions available to users to select for view or not and determine where on the user’s page it will be displayed.

Building Requirements From the Social Web

The use case is a perfect example of how businesses and organizations are building their own business requirements based off of public social applications. The use case was also based in a time when social applications and enterprise collaboration was in its infancy. Today, organizations are basing requirements for their own systems based on the likes of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter,, ICQ, LinkedIn and Google Talk, just to name a few.

As individuals, we all have built a complex network of social applications that we use all the time. Just look around you when you are walking down the street, in the coffee shop, on the bus or even at the beach; people are on their phones, laptops and tablets connecting, communicating, networking and collaborating. We, as a collective, are officially in the digital age, ruled by these little electronic devices that tell us the best place to eat, shortest route to get there, which one of our friends is already sitting at the bar, and they can also show us images in real time of what our friends are doing while they wait for us to get there. And the corporate world wants it, too.

Companies and organizations want their employees to see the latest idea that the marketing department has put out, see directions and times for the next meeting to discuss it, see notes and documents about it, join a web broadcast session remotely with video and chat between participants, and have several participants work on the same document while people around the world watch and provide their input.

Many organizations are trying to find a way of bringing the functionality easily available on the internet into their own organization while allowing users to blend their professional company details and tasks with public applications. Many are trying to provide a social networking environment within the enterprise where employees can associate with colleagues, instant message and video chat with individuals and groups, and search for experts within specific areas of the organization. In addition, they are looking to allow employees to seamlessly integrate these functions with external social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Vendors Mix Public App Features into Internal Solutions

Some software and application vendors today are taking an approach for providing a blend of enterprise social networking and enterprise collaboration with those often found in public social networking and public collaboration sites. For example, offers a company wide networking application called Chatter which allows users to create profiles and groups, see status updates, share files and make recommendations, plus much more.

Other technologies provide robust applications which are typically installed within the enterprise such as Oracle’s Web Center Services, which provides social computing services such as wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, forums, instant messaging and presence, people connections and activity streams, plus many more functions for the enterprise user.

Internal Solutions Don't Natively Integrate with External Sites

Most enterprise social networking and enterprise collaboration applications do not provide an out-of-the-box connection to the public applications. Among the many reasons for this is the fact that there are so many different potential applications to integrate with. Other reasons include the challenges of integrating internal security with public domain security, controlling the sharing of sensitive materials outside of an organizations firewall, and ensuring that employees are able to follow company policies in regards to information sharing and company information policies.

While there are no out-of-the-box connections, companies have either built connectors in house, requested the application vendors to create them as a one-off integration, or have sought out service organizations to bring the internal and external applications together.

Final Thoughts

We always want it all, but we must be aware of the practical constraints and challenges that may impede our goals. There are practical ways to share information through social networks. Many organizations have a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn and share information freely with their target audiences.

Having a presence on these site channels to reach the masses has been very effective. However, these are external applications from a company’s enterprise and should be treated as such. Use caution with the information you wish to share, or invest in technologies like Oracle’s Information Rights Management where documents can be sealed for designated users.

Engaging the enterprise with public social networking and collaboration can be done, but do it wisely and for purpose….not just because you want it.

Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading: