The lovely Tony Byrne from over at CMS Watch hung around the Enterprise 2.0 conference this year to talk about the viability of social software in the Enterprise. The verdict? We're still. Not. Sure.

To save time, Byrne took a vote and the audience helped narrow his discussion down to a handful of topics:

  • Can social software consistently bring real ROI?
  • Will the social software marketplace consolidate?
  • Should we socialize existing applications or invest in new social software?

Byrne himself weighed in a bit, ultimately disagreeing with the majority of the obviously social software gung-ho audience (much to their dismay).

"I take the no side on this with the exception of certain scenarios," he said of social software consistently bringing ROI. "I fundamentally don't believe any software keeps you searching less." This statement was followed shorty after by: "My own personal opinion is that this marketplace is not going to consolidate." He cited the dynamism (big guys having slow development cycles and the reality is that smaller vendors have impressive customer lists) as the culprit.

And then everyone started crying.  

Just Kidding, Nobody Cried

But really, it was interesting to see a room full of people obviously expecting to hear one thing get a dose of something else. 

"There's definitely a desire among enterprises to let people be social at work," Byrne continued, acknowledging the audience's main argument in favor of social software. "There's a notion of new social tools bringing new information. On the other hand, within a number of these tools their attempts at doing social mechanisms have not been effective."

So what are we doing wrong? The audience guessed at several possibilities: Each application can do something very well, but they're being treated as though connecting them at intelligent points would be a bad idea. Similarly, another audience member mentioned treating social software as a separate entity is where the problem lies. Someone else suggested differentiating between two different architectures: is the business process correct for a 'webified' experience? 

A Familiar Place

Byrne's personal wish is not for a separate repository, but a set of social services that can be used as a layer across many platforms, much like Microsoft's social layer across SharePoint.

In the end, the discussion wound up in a familiar place: is the term 'social' overused and or pejorative? Byrne didn't offer a hope-dashing comment this time, but he didn't need to. Several comments from the audience made it more than clear that there's something funky going on with our terminology. We were reminded of several current issues:

  • 'Social' makes a lot of people automatically think Facebook. What we need is something more professional sounding. 
  • Many companies have a policy to block social applications, as they associate them with nothing more than wasting time. 

What's in a name? These days, apparently everything. And until we can do something about all the negative connotations surrounding the word 'social' and perhaps even those stemming from 'Enterprise 2.0' itself, it sounds like determining whether or not the two will be able to fit comfortably together is going to be more than just a little bit problematic.