Will Professionals Embrace Social Networking Sites?

Loraine Lawson

Remember when corporate portals were all the rage? It seems the race is on to determine which Web 2.0 tech will emerge as the leading provider of what I'm calling personal portals -- one stop, personalized Web pages that are designed to let you handle messaging, discussions, group members and so on.

Thus far, these sites are all self-contained. They don't really interact with other sites, your e-mail or your work applications. The exception is Google's home page, which can do most of that, assuming you tweak your Gmail account and manage to find a working calendar app. Google falters, however, because it lacks the social networking aspects of 2.0 sites.

But there are signs of growth. Recently, Zoho announced it will offer free productivity applications through Facebook.

If you haven't tried Facebook, I suggest you check it out. It's a fascinating service -- a bit like a 20-something MySpace, but with much greater functionality and real potential for ... something. I just can't quite figure out what.

That's the thing that drives me crazy about Facebook. At Facebook, I can:

  • Leave messages for friends, former colleagues and so on.
  • Post and read messages on "my wall" -- but I'm still unclear on why I want to.
  • Keep up with friends, former colleagues and people I never thought I'd hear from again.
  • See on one page any messages or updates posted by my friends, former co-workers and colleagues.
  • Network and find people I may have known long ago.
  • Update people on what I'm doing.
  • Host discussion groups.
  • Monitor my favorite bands and be notified.
  • Post pictures.
  • Keep up with birthdays and events.
  • Try out various third-party mashups that do things like map all the cities I've visited or let me engage in music trivia against my friends -- a losing proposition for me, to be sure.
  • Spend $1 to send someone a GIF of a teddy bear, flowers, champagne or other "gifts."

It will even search my address book and query the site to hook me up with people whom, obviously, I already know how to contact.


And yet, I can't possibly think of a reason to go there every day. Especially since my inbox and a wall calendar will provide many of the same services.


Zoho's work with Facebook has me re-thinking Facebook's usefulness.


Zoho is meant to be used by students as a collaboration tool. Zoho evangelist Raju Vegesna says:

Now students can chat with friends and work together on homework using Zoho apps, all through their familiar Facebook social network. Working on a group assignment for college just got a lot easier. Over time, as these students become professionals, we hope they will take advantage of our other office applications.

That last part is key. Once, businesses developed software for other businesses. But with Web 2.0, everybody is trying to get in with the college crowd, hoping that when they get jobs, they'll bring their Web 2.0 technology to work with them.


In the meantime, students will enjoy one heckuva way to cheat on term papers.


The big flaw may be that Zoho doesn't actually integrate into Facebook so much as Facebook offers a link to Zoho. According to Information Week, to access a Zoho document, you have to go to the Zoho Web site, have a separate login and, to "share" the document, send an e-mail -- not a Facebook message -- to your buddies.


So, Google documents beats Zoho on the integration angle. At least I don't have to sign in again to accept an invitation to view a Google document.


Of course, sites are trying to monetize social networking in other ways. New social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, TradeKing and Zecoo, are targeting working professionals, according to a recent article on Physorg.com.


illumio, a Web 2.0 technology offered for free by Tacit, takes a totally different approach to social networking. Recently, I interviewed Tacit's CEO, David Gilmour, about illumio. True, you can sign up for groups and you have a profile. You can also send people questions or ask for contact information, but with illumio, that information is kept private.


illumio uses intelligent search to determine who can best answer your question and then sends that person your query. You may never know who received your query. Users can answer your question or ignore it. And likewise, you can share information or ignore it. You never have to give information about yourself on a public Web site or even on a semi-public profile. It's social networking, but it manages to maintain your privacy.


illumio is also nice because it integrates RSS feeds and learns about me without me asking me to fill out forms. Its business value makes sense to me -- it connects people who need information with people who have it -- but it doesn't force anyone to share knowledge. Which is good, because sometimes, it's not in your best interest or even your company's best interest to do so.


Still, I'm waiting for the killer site that manages to integrate the information from all of these sites, plus my e-mail and office documents, in one space. Unfortunately, once it does, I may be too cautious to trust it with that much information.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 19, 2007 5:38 PM Ken Hardin Ken Hardin  says:
Hey, Loraine. Ken from IT Business Edge here.Do you feel it's more likely that an IBM will acquire a tech like illumino and wire it into a Web-based Notes-type product, or that some Web 2.0 players will finally make the necessary connections to provide this "personal portal" you describe? Reply
Jul 19, 2007 7:42 PM Loraine Loraine  says:
My guess is, you'll see a Web 2.0 company add functionality to an existing site until you have something close to a personal portal. After a proof of concept, they'll probably create a version that targets the enterprise workspace - or, at least, mobile workers. Certainly any time an IT provider can make money, it's opening itself up to being bought out by a bigger company.With illumio, Tacit is following this pattern in terms of building a product for free, general use and then adding an option for businesses who want their own private groups. It seems to me the real demand, right now, is more in the consumer space than in the business space, with the exception being self-employed or contract workers, who are generally performing both personal and private work in the same space, (without having to hide it from the corporate IT division). Plus, business portals already exist and I really can't see why businesses would want to add Facebook-funtions to those portals - yet. I'm also not sure how people would feel about allowing their company to access their friends and families. So, I think it will be up to the consumer space to develop these functions and then modify them for business. illumio certainly has nice functions in the personal portal direction - for instance, it aggregates RSS feeds and monitors everything you're doing on your PC. But illumio is different in that it is tied to your PC. I would think one function you'd want in a personal portal is the ability to work over the Web from any computer. What's really smart about illumio is the privacy component - and that may make it more viable in the long run as a good compromise solution between having everything in one place, but not giving too much away to those on your social network. Tacit, which owns illumio, notes that IBM is a business partner - so certainly, it's on IBM's radar. Last year, IBM ranked third in shares of the business intelligence market. That said, Tacit seems to have some heavy-weight clients on it's own. Also, Tacit's flagship product isn't illumio - it's ActiveNet. I suppose having an enterprise client base while developing a tool for consumers could nicely position Tacit for helping it's Web 2.0 tool transition into the enterprise. Reply
Jul 20, 2007 8:20 AM Alex Gault Alex Gault  says:
It's important to recognize that illumio works best when used in the context of a community of people who share an interest. Therein, group members can exchange questions and answers, and capitalize on the expertise of like minds. To get a flavor for how such a group works, check out the Enterprise 2.o group:http://www.illumio.com/web/ActionGroupPublic_128852382.do Reply
Nov 28, 2009 11:48 AM William William  says:

A site worth looking into for business professionals is Profession Junction (www.professionjunction.com).


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