With the announcement earlier this month that Facebook topped Google as the most-viewed site on the Internet, it is no wonder that social networking-like features such as discussion forums, chat, file sharing and status updates are seeping into more enterprise applications. Whether it is a fad, a trend, or a time-sucking annoyance isn't really important: these features are here to stay.
There are four ways that enterprise applications have gotten more social. First, users are running applications that incorporate these features behind the corporate firewall. These are things that mimic the popular features of Facebook and Twitter, but that are exclusive for the staff of that enterprise. Applications such as Yammer and others are available for this purpose.
Second, traditional software applications vendors such as Salesforce.com, Spiceworks, Novell, and others are "socializing" their applications and providing mechanisms to enable discussions, chat and so forth while performing the usual tasks of accounting, network management or whatnot.
Third, companies are spending more time encouraging open discussions of their products among their customers as part of their product development lifecycle or as extensions of their customer service. Using many social media tools, Dell, Southwest Airlines and Intuit are just some of the many examples here.
Finally, as part of their natural evolution of their corporate Intranets, corporations are building their own internal social networks on top of open source tools and free or low-cost Web services that mimic Facebook friend networks and Twitter status updates. IBM, Oracle and Deloitte are just three of many companies that have taken this route.
Let's examine the benefits and drawbacks of each of these paths.