The Stratification of Social Networking

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With the formal launch of the Chatter social network surrounding Salesforce.com, there's obviously been a lot of chatter about the role of social networking in business.

But if we take a step back from all the noise, some definitive trends are emerging. For example, it clear that applications need some soft of social- networking capability for the unstructured workflow around a specific business process. A good example of this beyond Salesforce.com is the social network tools that Oracle recently added to its business process management environment.

At the same time, however, there also is a need to support the unstructured workflow between disparate applications. The most notable of these types of platforms at the moment is Jive Software, which provides a cross-platform social-networking capability for the enterprise.

Social networking tools could rapidly replace e-mail and instant messaging as the preferred platforms for collaboration. Rather than send a message out of context about a subject related to data in an application, a social network for business allows workers to create an unstructured workflow within the context of the data at issue.

This doesn't mean that e-mail and instant messaging are going away. But both those of those communications mediums can be cumbersome to use and, from a compliance perspective, create certain challenges when it comes time to explain who did what to whom and when.

As Chris Morace, senior vice president for products at Jive Software puts it, the collaboration noise level within the enterprise has become deafening, given all the various forms of communication. Social-networking tools will allow users to start fine-tuning the signal-to-noise ratio in business communications toward what matters most. And the more that happens, the more productive people will become.