NewsGator plans to uncouple its enterprise social suite from SharePoint

So far, NewsGator's Social Sites has been a SharePoint-specific add-on

By , IDG News Service |  Unified Communications, NewsGator, Social Networking

NewsGator is re-architecting its Social Sites enterprise social networking (ESN) suite so that it can be installed independently of Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration server.

The decision isn't terribly surprising, given that Microsoft last summer bought NewsGator competitor Yammer for US$1.2 billion and has ambitious plans to deeply integrate Yammer with SharePoint and other Microsoft products, like Office and Dynamics CRM. However, this decision is a big technology and strategy shift for NewsGator.

"Today Social Sites still runs on SharePoint," said Brian Kellner, NewsGator's executive vice president of products. "As we go forward, we're working on an architecture that doesn't have a dependence on SharePoint, although it can still take advantage of it."

NewsGator's CEO, Daniel Kraft, hinted at this move back in August, when he told IDG News Service that while the company would continue solidifying Social Sites' standing in the Microsoft ecosystem, it would also expand the product's scope to, for example, enterprise applications from SAP. The idea, Kraft said then, would be to let users manage processes from those third-party applications within Social Sites.

Kellner reiterated that an integration with SAP is in the works. From its SharePoint perch, NewsGator already has a level of integration with Chatter -- Salesforce.com's ESN module -- and with Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

Back in 2007, NewsGator made a bold and risky decision in designing Social Sites -- today its flagship product -- specifically for SharePoint. Other ESN vendors, including Yammer, built their products to be more platform-agnostic.

NewsGator's bet paid off. As a tightly integrated ESN add-on for SharePoint -- Microsoft's collaboration, content management and intranet server -- Social Sites has a user base of more than 4 million and hundreds of large customers, including JP Morgan Chase, Kraft Foods, Adidas, General Mills, Ericsson and Barclays.

The newly architected, non-SharePoint-dependent Social Sites could make its debut as early as this year.

For now, NewsGator continues to improve Social Sites, and will release on Tuesday version 3.5 of the product, which extends the capabilities of a revamped user interface called Lookout that was introduced in version 3.0 in August of last year.

Lookout will now have links to Microsoft's Exchange and Outlook, so that users can call up their email, calendar and task entries from within Social Sites. Likewise, users will be able to access Social Sites data and capabilities from within Outlook via a new plug-in for the Microsoft email client.

The suite also features a new toolbar called Lookout360 that can be placed on any SharePoint page or web page that gives users access to a variety of Social Sites functions.

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