Over the course of the past year, the pace of change in the social collaboration space rivals that of Star Trek’s Enterprise.

It’s a market that has continued to accelerate at light speed throughout the year. Technology innovation has continued apace with the addition of social workflows. Application development and integration tools are evolving rapidly. Lots of new companies have entered the market. The few that have exited have done so spectacularly.

More than anything else, 2012 brought an understanding of the role that the social collaboration toolset brings to the enterprise. The Social Enterprise discussion is now about use cases -- real business value --instead of a mystical benefit from having microblogging in an organization.

With all the changes, a few stick out above all the others. Some examples of the trends and progress made over the course of the year were:

Social collaboration goes mainstream

Over the course of the past year, we have seen social collaboration and communication features widely deployed through a diverse set of organizations. ESG research shows that a majority of organizations have deployed some type of collaboration solutions either as a suite, such as an enterprise social network, integrated into an enterprise application or as a standalone sharing or communication tool.

Yammer exits for US$ 1billion

Is this massive market validation or massive overpaying on the part of Microsoft? At this point, it’s hard to tell what return on investment Microsoft will see on the Yammer acquisition. Still, it sure seems that even a company as rich as Microsoft wouldn’t spend one billion dollars on an acquisition that wasn’t strategic. I’m going with both overpaying and validation.

The various lines of social collaboration begin converging on a point

At the moment, offline collaboration features such as microblogging and task sharing are merging with real-time tools, especially video collaboration and web conferencing. Citrix, with Podio and GoToMeeting, Microsoft with Lynx and Yammer (not to mention Sharepoint), and Cisco with Webex Social and Webex Meetings are examples of the combination of the two common strains of collaboration. Jive’s recent acquisition of Meetings.io continues the trend.

Vendors start to think that it might be good if the Social Enterprise was enterprise grade

At the beginning of the year, a hard look around at the social collaboration space or any part of the Social Enterprise showed products that were dynamic, fresh and useful but not really fit for a mid-sized or large enterprise. Nowhere was that more evident than with regulatory compliance and e-Discovery, essential concerns for many corporations.

IBM, Yammer and Jive have all pursued partnerships that integrate data retention and archiving capabilities with their social collaboration products while Oracle Social Network and VMware’s Socialcast have added native features to do the same.

Major players get serious about social collaboration

All major software companies have added Social Enterprise products and features to their software product lines. Besides Microsoft spending a truckload of money on Yammer, we have seen SAP combine their social collaboration assets into the wonderful SAP Jam while Oracle has entered the market for all things social with their Oracle SRM Suite.

Learning Opportunities

Despite a crowded market, more companies enter the Social Enterprise market every day

What started with a few companies in the mid-2000s has grown to dozens of companies over the years. One would expect to see the market contract with acquisitions taking out the best companies and failure the worst.

Instead, more and more companies keep adding new social collaboration products to the market, especially enterprise social networks. How long can this go on before the market is littered with failed companies and discontinued products?

Integration of Social Collaboration into Mission Critical Processes

The presence of global enterprise software giants Oracle, SAP and IBM propel forward the most important change this market has seen yet: the integration of social collaboration into the mission-critical processes that mid-sized and large organizations operate by.

More and more, the Social Enterprise has focused on how to enhance the everyday work product through social collaboration. These companies recognize that we do not collaborate for collaboration’s sake. Instead, we collaborate to get our jobs done and ensure that people operate in the context of normal, day-to-day operations.

This was one exciting year for the Social Enterprise, especially the social collaboration space. Rapid adoption is driving rapid change. There are still stumbling blocks -- best practices are nascent -- but the evolution from a “Facebook for the enterprise” into a serious business tool is underway. It will be interesting to see if pace will slacken or accelerate in 2013.

Image courtesy of ronallan (Flickr)

Editor's Note: Read more of Tom's thoughts on the Social Enterprise? Read Building the Social Layer.