OTOH, if you're keen on being in tune with the state of the art in social learning, you're perhaps better off using a full-fledged social collaboration platform. But then again, you're perhaps going to tax an already stretched technology team -- and you need to be sure about what you're getting into before you spend a truckload of cash. This is where some of the cooler SaaS (Software as a Service)/ 'On-Demand' platforms come in really handy. In today's blogpost, I'm going to introduce you to six inexpensive platforms that you can try out and enable on-demand. Just like that - at the click of a button. Ready? Let's check these out.
Cyn.in - Full featured Enterprise Social Learning
Cyn.in comes from the makers of Sync.in - the hugely popular web based word processor. The above video is kinda contextual, because I did it for ThoughtWorks, for a very specific purpose. But as you may have noticed, Cyn.in is a really solid, full-fledged social platform. It's very feature rich - name the feature and Cyn.in has it. Let's list them out:
- Social bookmarking
- Discussion forums
- Group calendars
- Audio/ Video/ Image Sharing
- File sharing
- Full blown metadata support - tagging, ratings, comments etc
Yammer - The Microblogging Platform
On the face of it, Yammer's just a microblogging platform. The simplicity is where it's power lies. Often social learning platforms are way too complex in the number of options they provide to users. For users that are already using the internet in a big way to find and create interesting content, Yammer's a great way to aggregate useful information in one place. Yammer's a Twitter equivalent for the enterprise. Which means that you can hashtag information which is easily searchable for later. This means that you can easily share information with a really low entry barrier and with minimal interruption to your work. This also means that with the right kind of community management, Yammer can do for your company the stuff that Twitter does for the big broad internet.
Yammer allows you to create internal communities in your organisation, which isn't such a great idea, but is something that a lot of companies look for. Most importantly Yammer doesn't have a 140 character limit, so you have the ease of use of Twitter without it's limitations - so just in case you wanted to have a longer back and forth, you can do that outside your email inbox. Yammer's been quite a success in the industry - check out some of the case studies here. While you can start with a network for free, you perhaps want directory integration and other enterprise features. At $36 per person for the Silver plan and $60 per person for the Gold plan, it does seem a bit pricey, but I guess you can talk to them about volume discounts.
Socialcast - the 'other' Microblogging Platform
Just like Yammer, Socialcast is a splendid enterprise microblogging platform. Everything I said about Yammer holds true for Socialcast. Socialcast, like Yammer has a desktop app and a smartphone app too. Their prices aren't openly published, but from what I understand even the free version gives you tremendous flexibility and configurability by way of the following features:
- Outlook and Sharepoint integration
- Directory Integration
- Administrative privileges
SocialText - The 'just enough' Collaboration Platform
When I was evaluating SocialText earlier this year, I thought of it as the 'just enough' collaboration platform, as you'll notice from my video above. While it may not seem like much, it supports the really important features such as:
- Social networking;
- Shared Spreadsheets (ala Google Docs);
- and Groups/ Communities
Grou.ps - The Ning Replacement
Grou.ps is cool - grou.ps is easy. You may remember reading about it on this blog when I reported Jane Hart's webinar. While I really love grou.ps for it's feature set and the ease of use, customisability and setup, I'm a bit sceptical about it's use as an enterprise social learning application unless the intent is to connect with customers and third parties. This is because Grou.ps has absolutely no way of connecting with your company's single-sign-on directory. This may not seem like much, but this is is often a big problem in the adoption of enterprise applications, because users have to remember multiple passwords to even contribute. Yes, you can use Facebook integration, but how many companies are willing to see their internal information published on Facebook? This said, if you're not beset by security and intellectual property concerns, then you should give grou.ps a try. It's extremely feature rich and most importantly a free and easy alternative to paid services such as Ning.
Google Apps - The Next Giant?
Before I tell you more, I must say I have a huge love-hate relationship with the Google Apps suite. Their email is great, but their calendaring tool is erratic. They always seem to be in hobby software mode and some of their tools such as Google Videos and Google Sites are just not ready for the enterprise yet. All this said, the introduction of Google Marketplace, Google Wave and Google Groups as part of the apps suite makes Google an increasingly attractive choice for enterprises. The promise of Google Buzz in coming months adds a really strong edge to Google Apps' social capabilities. Email is at the center of all collaboration and while this may not seem like the best idea if you trust the purists, email is going to take a huge time to die. Google has an irritating knack of releasing features without any advance notice and with no published roadmap for customers. Sometimes the things they do are a pleasant surprise to customers and at other times they announce a feature when you've spent months trying to develop a workaround. The latter is obviously very irritating. This said, if you wish to bank on a solution that's likely to shape up as one of the best in years to come, Google's a good horse to place your bets on. For features it doesn't have yet, try the extensions at the Google Marketplace and you're likely to have a social learning suite to die for. You can start up for no fee whatsoever by using their services on the public internet or better still try their free, standard edition. As of now, Google Apps Premier Edition comes with the following tools:
- Google Docs
- Google Calendar
- Google Videos
- Google Sites
- Google Wave
- Google Chat
- Google Buzz (coming soon)
- Google Groups
- and an unlimited array of options from the Google Marketplace
Choosing a social learning platform is not easy and I'm not going to take a shot by telling you who my winner is. I'll let you take a guess with that! This said, each of the above tools allows you try without buying and most importantly without even installing. They're 'on-demand' -- all you need to do is pay and get your service running. So if you can get your evaluation done soon, getting your platform to work is almost like waving a magic wand - tada! Going on-demand also gives you the advantage of discontinuing the service once your subscription period is over, if that's necessary. Take away the trouble of installing and maintaining the applications and your IT department is likely to be your best friend. So try these tools out and see if they fit your bill, and let me know what you think. If there are other on-demand platforms you've had experience with, please drop in your comments and let me know. I'll look forward to hearing from you.