Thursday, December 11, 2008

Interesting startups at the Austin Tech Happy Hour: part 2

Another startup I chatted with at the Austin Tech Happy Hour was SocialWare. It integrates with social networks, but for different purposes than Social Agency. They are making tools like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn suitable for corporate communications. That includes communications between employees, and company's communications with its customers or vendors. The idea is that employees, customers and vendors will use those tools in the same way as they do socially -- e.g. by posting status updates -- to keep all interested parties updated on the issues they're working on. For that, the information that passes through those channels needs to be secure. So the SocialWare software intercepts those communications on the company's firewall and then does some kind of magic so that only the authorized parties would see the updates. The rest of Facebook or Twitter visitors, if they looked at a person's X feed, would only see "X sent a private message". Those updates are stored on the company's servers, not on the social networks' servers.

It sounds like a neat idea, although I'm unclear how exactly they enable the information to be seen by the authorized eyes only and prevent it from crossing company's boundaries. At one point Cameron Cooper, the guy who gave the demo, mentioned that a particular safety feature depends on people using a separate Facebook profile for work, so that it would be invisible to outside friends. But this kind of defeats the purpose of using the widespread social networking tools in the first place. The only reason I would use Facebook to communicate with my customers / vendors would be if I was already spending lots of times on Facebook as it is. That is to say, I would have to be already participatting in Facebook for "play". That way I would not need separate software for work communications. I could avoid installing another program on my computer and having another source of interruptions and another window to clutter my desktop. This of course implies that the employee is socializing on Facebook while at work. Many companies don't allow that. (The smarter ones realize it's a harmless distraction that actually increases morale. :-))

But if I'm not using Facebook for play, I might as well install use separate, dedicated instant messaging software, fortified with extra security features that corporate communications require. So I don't see much logic here.

That's not to say that SocialWare's premise is flimsy: it is possible that some of their social network integration makes use of your "play" profile while keeping the communications secure. As I said, there were probably many details I missed in what Cameron said. (The room was NOISY!)

I was impressed by both companies, but especially Social Agency. It seems they've got a little closer to answering the big question of how to monetize social networks. Of course, their product is just a different twist on marketing / advertising. But companies might like it better to have their brand integrated into people's feeds -- woven into the threads of their daily lives, if you will -- than to sell ads that are displayed on the web page's margins and ignored by visitors.

More pictures from Austin Tech Happy hours are in my photo gallery

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