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Enterprise 2.0 by Any Other Name ...

The West Coast edition of the annual Enterprise 2.0 Conference earlier this month generated some noteworthy debate about the evolution and efficacy of social software in enterprise environments -- debate corporate coders would be wise to track.

Start with the opposing views of Martijn Linssen in his blog post, "Enterprise 2.0: the Prodigal Parent," and Andrew McAffee's post, "'Social Business' is Past Retirement Age." ZDNet's Dennis Howlett weighs in on that discussion on his "Irregular Enterprise" blog. So does Bob Warfield's, who analyses on his "Enterprise Irregulars" blog. All worth reading.

I, too, noticed that, among the headlining keynoters -- IBM, Jive, Adobe -- the term "Enterprise 2.0" was all but replaced by "Business Social," or some variation. But I'm not as sure as these guys seem to be about where we are and where we're headed with the enterprise application of social media.

I spoke with Suzanne Livingston, senior product manager for IBM's Social Software group, before the show about this subject. Depending on how you define "social software," you could say that IBM has been in this market since it launched Lotus Connections back in 2007.

"We've seen a lot of customer demand for these types of tools," she said. "That's why we're investing in this technology. That's why we pulled our tools together into a platform early on. I think it's clear that the market is growing and customer demand is growing, but also, we're seeing a whole new series of use cases emerge for how to integrate social into the business work we do day to day."

My favorite example here is IBM's decision to combine social software with the Rational Team Concert environment. The idea was to give developers "instant" access to the experts they need to get issues resolved faster and to receive feedback from communities to help ensure that projects meet their intended goals.

"This is about building a network, but it's also about working more effectively with people, leveraging their expertise and the social data they have shared, so in essence, this is social collaboration," she said.

Ross Mayfield, chairman, president, and co-founder of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Socialtext, claims that his company was the first to deliver social software to businesses way back in 2002. The company's first product was a wiki, which has been built out over time into a platform that includes wikis, blogs, social networking, a widget dashboard, activity streams and microblogging (Twitter for the enterprise.)

"In the early days, Enterprise 2.0 was about bottom-up adoption," Mayfield told me. "People would use hosted services or open source within their work group or department. Today, Enterprise 2.0, or enterprise social software, or whatever you want to call it, is a mainstream category. You've got your niche players, and your stand-alone solutions, like Socialtext and Jive. But you've also got large, established vendors coming into this category -- IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce, what have you -- and that's an important type of validation."

Call it Enterprise 2.0, Enterprise Social Software, or Social Collaboration, this is not a trend any of us can afford to dismiss, even if the ROI hasn't shown up just jet. Maybe it'll just be a cost of doing business. Forget the current hype-level and remember that 500-plus million Facebook users and a gazillion tweeters are already changing the way social media-savvy workers and customers expect to interact with the enterprise.

Posted by John K. Waters on November 26, 2010