I’ve spent the last several weeks diving into many of the “enterprise”/private SaaS microblogging services available (a.k.a Twitter for the enterprise). This all began when I was trying out the new “social” features of Confluence. I really like confluence, and I like the new features like status updates and following other users, but it still is a bit limite
So I started poking around and tried out SocialText and my first impression was that it felt disheveled; it’s much more than a micro-blogging platform and more comparable to Confluence in fact. I decided to turn my focus on the more pure play microblogging apps. So I began a series of twitter searches to see what people were mentioning most with respect to “enterprise twitter”, “micro-blogging”, etc. So I decided to take a look at: Yammer, Socialcast and Present.ly.
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I created accounts in each of these and invited a couple coworkers. Here’s my quick take on each service.
Overall Yammer has a very low barrier to entry, easy to register and easy to begin contributing. The feed can display as threaded or mixed chronological (like Twitter). The threaded view is only a single level threading though. Yammer comes in three levels: Basic (free), Silver ($3/user/mo) and Gold ($5/user/mo) and only has a SaaS hosting model so there is no longer a behind the firewall optio
Yammer segments your network strictly by email domain and you cannot invite members outside of your domain unless you are at a paid level. At the Basic level each user “owns” their data where with the paid version the user owns the data and you can’t get an export of the data unless you are at the Gold level.
Yammer’s desktop client is mediocre and the search capability is basically dysfunctional. There is a 3rd party Mac OS native application called Gabble that is a big improvement over the official yammer desktop client. You have a threaded view capability but no search capability. There’s a Firefox extension that works much like the Twitter extension that works well to keep you in the loop announcing “YAM” every time a new message was posted and twitter integration allowing twitter updates to flow into Yammer if you add the tag #yam to your tweet. There’s several other extension that I didn’t try. Yammer’s new iPhone app is really, really good. There’s a push capability and the ability to post photos. One of my coworkers said the 3rd party Android app worked well, but as I tried to find a link for it at nullwire all of the information is gone and the site is pretty much stripped.
Yammer’s group capability allows for public or private groups and what is really nice is the ability for each user to specify notification preferences for each group (email, IM or SMS). The profile has a good mix of data but doesn’t allow for custom fields. There’s also a very nice self directed org chart feature that allows each user to specify who they report to, manage and work with. I did not try the API.
Next up SocialCast, more of a Friendfeed for the enterprise, and although missing a few key features, there’s something about the app that makes me want to like it. Maybe it’s how responsive and friendly the team are (thanks @carrieyoung @socialcast); I don’t know. This week Socialcast released a new version that included a a UI overhaul which is MUCH better making it the slickest application of the lot. They also launched a Social Business Intelligence capability that looks really compelling. With Socialcast you own your own data and can request a full data export even in the free version. They offer two versions: Basic (Free, SaaS) and Enterprise (Behind the firewall virtual appliance, price? offered as SaaS as well?). Even in the basic version you can “claim” your administration rights and then set your theme, upload a custom logo, manage various metadata and view reports. You can also send a broadcast messages to the entire community.
In Socialcast you can create custom streams based on people or tags/keywords. There is similar group functionality as in Yammer, except better with the ability to import feeds from the likes of Twitter, Googe Reader etc.. a la Friendfeed. That said, Socialcast doesn’t have the custom notification settings I liked in Yammer. The profile is similar to Yammer though you can add custom profile questions.
The desktop app is functional, but bland from a UI perspective. The search works much better than Yammer’s desktop search. They have an iPhone optimized mobile site that works well, but no native mobile apps *yet. They do have a nice Google gadget though that’s perfect for those organizations using Google Apps. The REST API looks very capable.
I spent the least amount of time using Present.ly though it is a very capable service as well. There is a free SaaS version and an enterprise behind the firewall version with perpetual licenses by number of users. Even the free version has a superior array of configurability allowing you to set custom mail servers, LDAP servers, etc. There’s a nice array of apps including an iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows mobile versions. I did discover that if you upload a video file (in this case an avi) that Present.ly would process it and render in an integrated player – that was sweet.
At the tail end of my research I stumbled upon SocialWok – basically a social app for Google Apps that runs on Google App Engine. Since we use Google Apps internally I was excited by the prospect of this app. With many thousands of companies using Google Apps, already having taken the SaaS cloud plunge, I believe SocialWok is in an incredible sweet spot. IMO there’s still some key areas of development to be done, specifically there are not private groups and though the UI is a blatant (and intentional) Google copy it’s still rough around the edges in places. However, the core functionality is there and there’s a solid foundation to build on. I’m certainly going to keep my eye on SocialWok.
Overall I learned a lot from my survey of these services. Yammer was the simplest to use and had a stable of applications and even some 3rd party apps. They seem to have the most momentum and the largest user base. Thus you have to pay for data “ownership”, the ability to export, etc. Socialcast in my mind is the most exciting given their new Social Business Intelligence capabilities and the strength of their platform as a whole. Like I said before, for some reason I just like them. Present.ly seems very capable and would certainly warrant more time if I had it. SocialWok has reinvented itself exclusively for Google Apps, and they are going to develop the hell out of the niche they are in.
So there are some key differences between each of these services, some others I didn’t mention and many features and capabilities that I just didn’t have time to mention. In truth I just scratched the surface. The best way to learn about these services is to sign up for account and try them out first hand. It’s so easy to get going that it’s scary. I can only imagine that there are 1000’s of rogue yammer communities out there operating under the noses of organizations. These things can be very difficult to control once they proliferate. Now I wonder when Twitter will join the party? With a $1B valuation and very little revenue you would think that enterprise micro-blogging would be a strategic opportunity for growth…