Every enterprise wants to succeed at "Enterprise 2.0," but industry research suggests that many initiatives remain experimental. In these early days, the technology you choose for your social and collaboration initiatives may have a major impact on your success.

If you research this marketplace, you will find an increasingly confusing array of technology players, ranging from the largest software providers in the world to the smallest, often competing for the same customer. You'll also find a plethora of different business and delivery models, from commercial to open source, SaaS to on-premise. Some vendors offer all four of those options.

It is important to recognize — and not enough analysts point this out — that collaboration and social software remains a fairly immature space. The nearly ubiquitous marketing jargon that obscures true product niches compounds the dilemma for would-be buyers.

It turns out, though, that the major offerings do fall into specific categories, and understanding those segments goes a long way toward helping you narrow your choices.

Platform Vendors: Big Is Not Always Better
IBM, Microsoft and Oracle are behemoth software vendors that arrived belatedly but with some force to the collaboration and social software landscape. Their appeal lies in the (putative) opportunity to integrate with other investments you may have made in their stack. They are also among the pricier offerings, and their tools tend to compare unfavorably in terms of raw functionality against those products in the tiers below.

At the same time, all these vendors are working on enhancing their platforms, all of them are thinking actively about how to integrate social computing with other enterprise services and each can provide some level of linkages with their existing portal and document management services.

They have ambitions of selling to new customers but are likely to appeal most to existing licensees. That does not mean that if you are an existing customer of another IBM/Microsoft/Oracle product that you should automatically adopt their social platform as well. This technology — and indeed, this whole industry — remains too young and experimental for any such automatic choices.

Major Suites: Solid Alternatives, But Beware Silos
Major collaboration and social suite vendors provide multi-dimensional services and often attempt to compete directly with the platform vendors in the tier above on the grounds that their offerings provide richer and more contemporary functionality. The likes of Jive and Socialtext are all well-known, mid-sized players, each with more than 100 employees, with a bevy of well-known customers and case studies. On the down side, they tend to get implemented as independent islands, and you may have to work a bit harder to integrate them into other enterprise systems.

You will also find diverse business and delivery models here. Telligent and Jive sell traditional, installed software, albeit with SaaS options. The Drupal platform is a traditional software application but is available as open source. Socialtext has expanded to become more of a collaboration and networking offering; the core of this platform lies in its wiki service. BroadVision is an all-SaaS, networking-oriented offering that has been broadly localized into several languages. BroadVision and Jive are publicly (albeit thinly) traded.

Smaller Suites: Can Work Well for Mid-Sized Enterprises
These are smaller, privately held vendors that offer an array of different social software services, but individually, they come to this space with a particular background in one application or another, which typically remains their core strength and orientation. For example, Traction started out as a wiki; blueKiwi's strength historically resided in rich profiles and networking, and ThoughtFarmer mixes collaboration and broader intranet management.

Specialist Players: For External Blogs and Wikis
These are primarily standalone blog and wiki software packages. Nearly all of the other vendors in the tiers above offer these services, but they generally pale in comparison to what you would find in these dedicated tools. In particular, if you want to expose a blog or wiki to the general public outside your firewall, then you definitely want to consider one of these "specialists" seriously, since they are explicitly designed for this sort of rough-and-tumble use case.

Atlassian, MediaWiki and MindTouch are primarily wiki platforms.

WordPress and Say Media's Movable Type are primarily blog packages. Both vendors have had ambitions about expanding to become more full-fledged web content management offerings, but the core of each of these platforms is blogging services.

Social Enterprise Layers: Collaboration as a Service, Not a Place
These are add-on services for existing applications that attempt to "socialize" an established digital business environment. Prominent examples include Yammer and NewsGator.

This concept of a social layer is very new — and largely untested — but extremely promising for enterprises that are increasingly looking at collaboration and networking more as a service than a place.

To be sure, both Yammer and NewsGator offer incomplete offerings in this regard. Yammer is historically a microblogging specialist with a nascent "embeddable" version. NewsGator only works on top of SharePoint and, therefore, cannot socialize other incumbent environments. Yet, both are mature, well-regarded vendors in this space.

Other prominent vendors are making progress as well, including Salesforce.com's Chatter, Tibco's Tibbr and Socialcast.

TONY BYRNE is the founder of the Real Story Group, an independent analyst firm that evaluates vendors so that technology buyers can make better choices. For the full "Enterprise Collaboration and Social Software" report and detailed evaluations of 20 collaboration/social products and platforms, visit www.realstorygroup.com/Reports/Collaboration.

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