We were fortunate enough to attend the Microsoft Partner Conference in Houston earlier this month. Many of the keynote and breakout sessions are available at Digital WPC. However, these videos capture neither the inescapable parties, nor a number of the seminars that helped us understand Microsoft’s take on the world of social computing inside the firewall (equivalent buzzwords: Intranet 2.0, Enterprise 2.0).

The break-out session we found most valuable was called Collaboration: The New World of Enterprise 2.0 Social Computing Solutions

Drivers of change

Microsoft speakers pointed to several trends that are powering a shift in how corporations communicate internally:

1.Point-to-point collaboration is morphing into collaboration based on communities of interest. Over the last 15 years, corporations globally have mastered point-to-point collaboration via email attachments, but this is giving way to a need for collaboration amongst a broader range of people. This observation may be slightly self-serving (Hmm… what product allows for group collaboration? Oh, right, SharePoint). Nonetheless, it feels accurate to us.
2.Corporations are recognizing the heightened value that communities of interest offer. Where a team is a defined, time-limited group of people with a common goal, communities of interest persist in time and hone in on a topic or theme as opposed to an objective. Communities of interest may be the key to finally realizing the potential of corporate knowledge retention.
3.Knowledge discovery is changing. Better search tools and more integrated information infrastructure allow employees to find almost anything, but knowing what is important requires expertise that is in short supply. Collective filtering, tagging, scoring, the so-called “wisdom of crowds” can ensure broad sharing of key expertise criteria.

Microsoft SharePoint and Enterprise 2.0/Social Computing

The Radicati Group claims that SharePoint has a 34% share in social computing, and this was pointed out by the session leaders. The truth of this statement comes down to how you define “social computing” (Does Sharepoint 2003 collaboration count?) Regardless of your definition, however, SharePoint licence sales exceeded $1 billion in its first year, and you can’t ignore the 100 million seat licences sold either.

SharePoint was described as addressing social computing at three levels:

 

And, as SharePoint is fundamentally an application development platform, you can build whatever you envision; given time, money and electricity.

Microsoft Partners Round-out the Web 2.0 Story

Analysts have not been terribly complimentary of SharePoint’s social networking capabilities. And there is definitely some truth to their observations. I do wonder, however, if these comments will feel short-sighted once the broader Microsoft partner community ramps up to meet the vast social networking opportunities that are now on the horizon.

Already, a dozen or so Microsoft partners have released software designed to enhance SharePoint 2007′s social computing capabilities. JP Holston, CEO of Newsgator, gave a compelling demonstration of how partner solutions add value. Sitting on top of SharePoint 2007, Newsgator Social Sites 2.0 appears to enhance almost every social computing element of the underlying platform. In particular, their clever use of Ajax to simplify the user interface and accelerate responsiveness holds promise for improved employee adoption.

The Bottom Line on Sharepoint and Enterprise 2.0

Microsoft senses the importance of the Enterprise 2.0 movement and has built base features into SharePoint 2007 that can accommodate extensibility. In turn, the partner community is beginning to respond with thoughtful extensions. But it is telling that only two of the hundred or so breakout sessions in the partner conference recognized the existence of the social computing movement. Similarly, Microsoft speakers during the keynote sessions did not mention the topic. I see two possible explanations for this:

Microsoft doesn’t see the “intranet 2.0″ movement as representing a fundamentally new way of doing business, but rather as an extension of existing business trends. It’s worth reflecting on it and addressing the trend but not worthy of executive focus.
Microsoft hasn’t yet fully ramped up to play in the 2.0 game, the company is famously capable of arriving late to the dance and still making out okay (anyone remember the short-lived dominance of Netscape before Microsoft bridged the internet gap?). I would expect to see a broad range of products introduced in the next two years, specifically aimed at the Intranet 2.0 market.
We’ll soon find out which interpretation is correct. But one thing is certain: with 100 million licences already in the market, those contemplating Enterprise 2.0 initiatives cannot ignore SharePoint 2007′s momentum