Social tools or tools that are social?

They might all be called ‘social networks’, but Facebook is very different from Twitter, which is very different from Instagram, which is very different from Foursquare.

It’s quite likely that we’ll see a rise of niche-specific solutions, because a social intranet for realtors, who don’t spend much time in the office, must be very different from social intranet for software developers. The logic of business simply dictates it. – Dmitry Valyanov (Venture Beat)

Is there a need for a wide variety of enterprise social tools? This is what Valyanov, CEO of a cloud-based social intranet provider, asserts in his guest post on Venture Beat. Adding social (collaboration & cooperation) capabilities to existing productivity tools is a better approach than using a dedicated social platform, Valyanov suggests. If so, then Microsoft’s strategy with Office365, focused on tools first and collaboration second, may be on the right track.

As Aaron Golberg notes, enterprise collaboration platforms can have a tendency to use a lot of IT resources, if not handled appropriately. But even Microsoft is offering a separate collaboration platform, Yammer, in support of Office365. With both sides covered, and a joint sales force, Microsoft may be able to get some solid market data on what enterprise customers really want and buy.

As Microsoft moves its services to the cloud and starts combining SharePoint, Yammer and Office 365, we still don’t really know what this all will look like by the end of 2013. It makes sense all three will be combined in some way, but how much choice customers will be offered is a big unknown. In the cloud, it should be easier for customers to pick and choose which features they want and when, but that’s not always possible from an integration standpoint. – CMS Wire

Microsoft is also using these tools internally, as described by a senior IT staff member.

“Employees that need to collaborate now have two options: a SharePoint Online site (which already number 18,000 and growing) or a Yammer group. Teams that rely primarily on document management features favor SharePoint sites, and those teams that are more focused on the conversations lean toward Yammer groups. Increasingly, we are providing options of embedding Yammer feeds into SharePoint sites for people that want a mixture of the two.” – ZDNet

Sharepoint supports people who are collaborating, focused on specific objectives, and sharing the same documents. As I mentioned in my last post on this subject, Yammer has the capability to not just support collaboration, but also workplace cooperation (freely sharing without any quid pro quo). Platforms like Yammer enable serendipitous connections by making work more transparent. But is a separate collaboration platform necessary, or just an added extra? It will be interesting to see if the triad of Yammer + Sharepoint + Office will dominate in large organizations, over more pure-play enterprise social platforms.

MS cooperation collaborationFor enterprise decision-makers and budget-holders, it is still best to really understand workplace collaboration requirements before buying new tools and infrastructure. In addition, they should take a serious look at how better cooperation can improve innovation and the sharing of implicit knowledge across the enterprise, and outside it. Tools are only part of the solution. However, being able to look at all tools in a systemic manner should help make better decisions.

This post was sponsored by Microsoft Office 365 – I retained editorial control and take full responsibility for what is posted. Contract writing is one of the ways I make my living.

4 Responses to “Social tools or tools that are social?”

  1. Larry Irons

    Hi Harold,

    I am puzzled by the premise of this post as well as other posts you’ve offered on the distinction between cooperation and collaboration. I don’t see how you can have collaboration without cooperation and, further, I don’t see how you can have cooperation without coordination.

    Coordination implies the “ability” to do things together, such as share knowledge. For example, bureaucracy historically made coordination scalable. However, coordination is not based in intent. Cooperation implies a “willingness” to do things together. People typically consent to cooperate. And collaboration, in its most distinct form, implies an “eagerness” (a motivation) to do things together.

    When someone in a position of authority asks you why you aren’t cooperating the question is very different than if they ask you why you aren’t collaborating.

    Perhaps I’m missing something in your thinking on this topic.


  2. Harold

    I see coordination, collaboration & cooperation as all necessary for effective organizations:

    What I have seen is that (too) many companies focus on coordination & collaboration and ignore cooperation. My definition of cooperating is sharing freely without any quid pro quo, as I tried to show here:

    Perhaps we differ on our definitions, Larry.

  3. Tom Spiglanin (@tomspiglanin)

    I agree with your distinctions between cooperation and collaboration, and understand Larry’s addition of coordination, although I believe coordination remains scalable without bureaucracy so long as a spirit of cooperation exists. We’ve been doing this with our disparate social tools for years, often using backchannels on one medium (i.e. Skype) to coordinate cooperation and collaboration on others (Twitter, G+). Unifying these means getting social tools that support all three of these activities into the flow and context of work. Microsoft has an answer, as does Google (and I hear IBM). Being in the flow of work is one of the reasons I remain connected to my Yammer networks (which are really communities as I see them) during working days. Unless individuals are working within their platform, active in their networks, and resident in their communities, social tools are nothing more than interesting places to experiment and interact, not the amplifiers of productivity they can be.


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