Monday, August 11, 2008

WMC Interviews: Tim Young of Socialcast


Last week I had the opportunity to interview Tim Young, CEO of Socialcast, an on-demand social networking platform that brings collaboration and knowledge-sharing capabilities to intranets. The software is designed to help organizations better harness the collective intelligence of employees by providing them with a secure, internal set of tools for social networking (profiles and connections), social updating (like Twitter) and social bookmarking with project management functionality. Current customers include retailers Hot Topic and Guitar Center.

WebMarketCentral (WMC): Tim, it appears that unlike tools such as Ning or Zanby, which are designed to let organizations create their own external social networks, Socialcast is more of an internal corporate social network tool, sort of an "Intranet 2.0" platform. Is that a fair description?

Tim Young (TY): You're correct. Socialcast is focused on using social dynamics to solve organization's internal information problems. The Socialcast application is a customizable internal corporate social network designed to allow the employees within a company to share information, ask questions, get answers, and engage more deeply in their daily work. It's a secure, private site that can either complement or replace a traditional intranet depending on the needs of the company. Our tool focuses on capturing the tacit knowledge held by multiple generations and geographically dispersed employees, resulting in a knowledge-sharing and collaboration portal that unites the minds of a company's entire workforce.


WMC: Socialcast is described as "designed for enterprises of all sizes,' but what really are the characteristics of organizations that this is best suited for—size, industry, geography, process type, etc.?

TY: We've seen the best application in two arenas—any company that employs knowledge workers, and organizations who have a geographically dispersed workforce. We've found that Socialcast fills an information gap for knowledge workers, making expertise and data much easier to find. For example in the retail industry, we've found that Socialcast unites corporate and store-level employees, creating a direct link from the staff that touches the customer to the staff that makes company-wide decisions.


WMC: I've seen increasing use of wikis by companies for internal collaboration; how is Socialcast different?

TY: Wikis are an excellent collaboration tool but in our opinion are not social software. In most cases wikis lack the concept of authorship and fail to focus on the individuals who created the knowledge and who else in the organization should be aware of it. We employ a wiki-like feature called "Pages" inside Socialcast. However, we also incorporate more features and tools that provide a structured way to get questions answered and to surface new ideas from employees at all levels to the top tiers of management. Additionally, our platform is built with social networking DNA—so all of these activities can be traced back to actual users with identities and identifiable knowledge in the community. Essentially, a wiki is just one piece of our software that can be used as a collaboration tool.


WMC: There's no mention on your website of features like file uploading / sharing / revision control—does Socialcast offer document sharing and control functionality?

TY: Because of Socialcast's focus on tacit knowledge vs. explicit knowledge, we don't support document storage. Instead we provide two alternative methods of sharing document-based knowledge.

1. Linking to a file that lives on the intranet—if you have a Word document that is accessible via your intranet, you can link to it as you would for any other web-based document. This creates a link to the file location so that users can discover where they can find data they need. This method does require that you have access to your intranet from whatever computer you're using.

2. "Pages" feature—we like to encourage the use of the Pages wiki-feature discussed above so that users can manually input information that once lived in a document into a searchable, changeable format. So, this same Word document can simply be cut and pasted into a page, and users can access/search this data at any time.

Not enabling document storage was a careful consideration for Socialcast. We realize that other enterprise software providers do have this function. However, because our goal is to truly connect people and their minds to each other, versus connecting people to static data, we elected to create alternatives to document storage that could serve as a starting point for collaboration and discussion.

Additionally, our research has shown that many companies already have specific solutions in place for sharing documents internally, many of which have strict governance and access controls (for example, NASA). By linking to those we are able to stay true to the restrictions put in place by a firm's IT staff without creating yet another file repository that IT would have to control and govern.


WMC: How is Socialcast priced?

TY: Socialcast is priced at $5 per user per month for all clients.


WMC: For many enterprises, employee knowledge is spread across documents, databases, emails and other systems. A common approach to addressing this is through enterprise search. How does Socialcast integrate with enterprise search platforms, such as Microsoft FAST, Attivio or Endeca?

TY: Currently we offer a robust search interface from within the Socialcast application but we recognize the need to interoperate with organizations existing search products and platforms. We are currently in process of working with a number of enterprise search providers to connect our Socialcast API into their search products. We hope to make some exciting announcements around this effort during the fourth quarter of this year.


WMC: Who do you see as the primary competition for Socialcast?

TY: Socialcast is a unique application that blends a traditional consumer social networking layer with KM tools to capture and share tacit knowledge. This unique approach allows Socialcast to solve specific information challenges that companies are currently facing included knowledge retention and socialization. Many large enterprise vendors (Microsoft, IBM, Oracle) are beginning to add "social" features to their existing product suites but they are merely feature add-ons and not the core of a product. There are also a number of smaller enterprise vendors that are bringing social software to the enterprise but like Socialcast each has a unique focus and approach; Socialtext with wikis, ConnectBeam with social bookmarking, SelectMinds with alumni focused networks.


WMC: Anything else people should know about Socialcast?

TY: Socialcast brings a unique and effective approach to social networking and messaging in the enterprise that was born from building highly successful consumer social networks. At our core Socialcast has always been focused on making product decisions based on extensive research and data mining. Our product development is heavily customer and end user centric in its approach and methods. We invest heavily in research and development to bring impactful and meaningful product innovations to the market. Currently we are engaged in research in network science, collective intelligence, flock theory, emergence behaviors, and conversation theory.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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