Socialtext Signals Announced

by Laura Fitton on October 1, 2008

Yesterday in rolling out Socialtext 3.0, there was a small (but much echoed) mention of their coming enterprise microsharing application Socialtext Signals. In our Mashable post last week, Signals was the 15th “unannounced” enterprise microsharing service. I got a sneak peek at Signals in July during Brainstorm Tech and have looked forward to more.

This is not “just another” enterprise Twitter clone. In addition to a look at what’s new and different about Socialtext Signals, this post (it’s the nature of such an emergent space) also includes a fair amount on what we believe enterprise microsharing can become.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT
Socialtext CEO Eugene Lee points out:

Most folks are likely to call it “Twitter for the Enterprise” but we are thinking about it much more deeply – particularly how integrating it with People, Dashboard, and Workspace will help make it much more of a tool that blends with the flow of real work, and not just another cool social app.

Socialtext Signals is just briefly mentioned in the official release and remains in private beta. Co-Founder Ross Mayfield‘s blog post provides the most detail on Signals. Choice quotes “get answers without interrupting people” and “Socialtext Signals is social messaging for the enterprise connected with context” sum it up nicely.

What you say and what you do
Socialtext Signals tracks what people are saying and sharing and Socialtext combines that with what people are doing and working on. Capturing pulses of relevant work activity, not just what people think to post, makes this a more integrated work tool.

Using it internally we’ve learned how different usage is from Twitter… because it is in the context of a company. The social patterns of what people say and share has taught us a lot about potential use cases. …Socialtext Signals will provide an integrated user experience across Socialtext Workspace, Socialtext Dashboard and Socialtext People.

They observed improved signal-to-noise ratio – and less risk valuable information will be lost in one missed signal -because multiple actions can be expressed in one signal, and because ensuing conversation around important points amplifies those signals.

Microsharing with Context
Because signals are linked to profiles and to collaboration within the Socialtext 3.0 workspace, they start from a rich contextual baseline. Context can also be explicitly shared in the content of the signal or the link included. Activity in the system generates a feed that’s part of the microsharing environment.

Context and being a part of the fabric of people’s work increase microsharing’s value and make it more genuinely the connective tissue we envision between individuals and teams.

Get answers without interrupting people
He recaps how Twitter is a surprisingly effective and efficient way to find answers, information, people and solutions, and frames Signals’ value in similar terms.

You are tapping into the collective intelligence of participants. Rapidly. And without the costs associated with other communication mediums for asking people questions. This is because the constraints of microblogging actually support efficient communications:

  • Messaging is in near real time
  • Messages are kept to 140 characters, the length of an SMS message, which encourages brevity, summary and linking
  • While you can view all messages, you follow people to create a custom feed of the signals from the people you want, leveraging the social network as a filter
  • In most use cases, Signals is implemented as a “Reply-Optional” medium
  • @Reply conventions reveal when a message is directed to you in public, while letting others add value or benefit from the conversation

“The broader values include speed of communication, knowledge sharing, context sharing and collective intelligence.” This value – problem solving with fewer interruptions and more reach into networks of loose ties – will be even greater for “process-specific solutions.”

BLOG COVERAGE
Larry Dignan’s writeup for ZDNet echoes the importance of context, which “could be what separates Signals from efforts like Yammer and Present.ly.” But reserves judgment on market readiness:

That doesn’t mean micromessaging isn’t important. In fact, it could be a big deal inside a business. But it could also be a mere feature to be integrated later by the likes of Oracle and SAP. Is Socialtext a groundbreaking, but way too early company in your enterprise?

Rafe Needleman‘s CNET Webware reviews of enterprise microsharing apps (Yammer, Present.ly, Socialcast) his Socialtext signals writeup does not disappoint:

…just giving users a Twitter clone doesn’t solve the dual problems of information overload on the one hand, and personal isolation at work on the other. He believes that the most important communication between workers in a company is what they are doing. “When I work,” Mayfield says, “I’m sharing knowledge as a byproduct of getting work done. In the enterprise, what someone does is more important than what they say.”

Clint Boulton spends most of his Socialtext 3.0 column writing about Signals as opposed to the launched suite. He quotes Mayfield:

“The conversations on Signals are very different than what you would find in a more public Twitter. It’s different because it’s within the context of an existing organization trying to get things done. Twittering without context is just frittering your time away.”

“When I work, I’m sharing knowledge as a byproduct of getting work done. In the enterprise, what someone does is more important than what they say.”

And he nicely sums up Socialtext Signals’ market position:

I’m glad to see a contemporary groupware company like Socialtext taking the longer view of the Twitter concept than upstarts like Yammer and Present.ly. In this space, I’ve been a fan of Socialcast more than those apps, because it’s based on the larger vision of integrating information from numerous group applications. That’s what Socialtext is doing, too, and it’s the right thing for business.

Dennis Howlett, writing at ZDNet, is deeply involved with conversations about enterprise microsharing in general and is personally involved with ESME. He had some good responses to Larry Dignan’s piece, and makes a bold statement “I believe this is one of the most important additions that company has made in its evolving enterprise 2.0 platform.” He also restates an anecdote that one-time Gartner analyst Erik Zeller predicted that “supply chain problems could be solved through some form of instant messaging.”

Steve Gillmor, writing at TechCrunch, added the context of interoperability:

The forthcoming Signals API will support the Twitter API, making it easy for IT to leverage the broad pool of third party micromessaging clients such as Twhirl and compatible tools from loosely federated Laconica-compatible servers. Social Signals goes beyond the current Twitter architecture with channels, essentially groups that can be managed via workspace creation and deployment.

Robert Scoble has a detailed roundup of many more of the blog reactions and an 18 minute cellphone video conversation with Mayfield.

Mayfield: “Standalone Twitter clones are very different from what we are looking to achieve here.”

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