At the end of his keynote on Monday at Sharepoint 2009, an interviewer asked Steve Ballmer about social computing. Ballmer recounted a story about a friend of his, a CEO for a Fortune 50 company. He said the guy is adamant in his opposition to social computing in his company. But if he had assurances that corporate data would be safe, then it might be a different story.
It was an interesting end to Ballmer's keynote. It was all Ballmer, practically yelling at the crowd to make his point about the ways the social web will make it into the enterprise.
Ballmer sounded like a guy rallying his troops. He kissed his fingertips as if he were talking about a masterpiece. He then told the audience that after the conference they would be equipped to tell the Sharepoint story. And they will be the ones who bring social computing into the enterprise.
This may seem like arrogance to some, but we are further convinced that Ballmer's remarks do reflect the monumental fears that top management has about social services like Twitter and Facebook. But it is also important to look at what Ballmer says and temper it with the reality of the market.
Ballmer said that Sharepoint provides the path for social computing into the enterprise. It provides security, information management and compliance, along with social features that allow people to communicate the way they want.
For many steeped in the social Web, it's clear that the Sharepoint 2010 features look pretty basic. But for the enterprise user, the features may be just right.
For instance, Sharepoint 2010 uses a ribbon interface, which is quite familiar to most people who work in the corporate world.
Simple things do matter. People can now upload pictures from their computers to a Sharepoint site and then re-size them. Sharepoint 2010 includes an activity stream for each user. Team sites are now wiki-oriented. Users can use wiki editing commands.
Search has been beefed up for people to find experts faster. For instance, if you are looking for a person with product sales experience, your search results will show the person's profile, including notes, ratings and their activities.
Tagging is unified in Sharepoint. For example, in a profile you can see tags that are associated with the person who appears in your search results.
These are all fairly basic social features that are old-school to many people. But in many ways, these features are just right for the mass-market enterprise user. Plus, there are some capabilities to make the platform compelling, including the ability to make mashups.
We know there are a host of other factors that will come into play and provide some advantage to companies that provide social technologies. But the reality is that many of these smaller companies are working in Sharepoint to provide an additional social layer. NewsGator made an announcement today about its integration. Jive Software, which today announced $12 million in new funding, integrates, too.
These companies are important to social computing in the enterprise. But it will be the big players that forge the path.
The major force is still Microsoft, with Ballmer leading the way.