Social computing for business

Social computing has had a profound effect on how we interact with information and other people, but can we harness the best social computing concepts for use in business?

There is no denying the impact that social networking sites, as typified by the likes of MySpace, have had on the way we use the Internet today. The big 10 such services have, according to recent Nielsen/NetRatings figures, a combined unique audience of an astonishing 68.8m users. That equates to something in the region of 45 per cent of all active users of the web.

Of course, the vast majority of this social networking is, well, social by nature. Yet is there an opportunity for business to benefit from the same resources? Certainly the business model has not escaped certain social sites such as LinkedIn, a leading example of business social networking with a global membership in excess of 6.7m, and other long established players such as the smaller (but subscription only, which perhaps explains why) Ecadamy with a modest 100,000 or so. There is no doubt that all but the most backward of business is aware of the tools available within the social computing space, so why are the majority not being more forward in adopting them?

Concern over control

Roger Greene, chief executive of FTP and messaging software provider Ipswitch argues that anything proprietary to the business "won't be shared unless the social network is very small, with membership restricted to trusted colleagues with whom the participant already has a relationship."

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Social computing, the new recruitment agency

Others argue that employers waste a lot of time trying to find the right person with the right fit, and appropriate knowledge, expertise and experience. "Services such as LinkedIn can help cut down on the time wasted and aid people to find the most qualified person to fit the purpose" said Matt Goode, marketing director for web content management vendor Immediacy. What's more, Goode reckons that businesses can take the lead from social networking sites such as the Friend of a friend (FOAF) project which includes pages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do. "An organisation can replicate this on a local level to improve inter-departmental relations, encourage greater collaboration and cut out information duplication" he says.

Security issues

Contact management

Trust deals with how well established the comment or view of the person on the site is. It also establishes how the information is perceived. "If an individual writes a lot of on your corporate information" Goode explains "this particular benefit helps to speed the process up and allow people to drill down to more relevant information. Social networks help paint a rounded picture of an individual and provide a higher level of granularity unlike contact management systems which just list a person's vital stats."

Greene remains unconvinced, however, seeing sites such as LinkedIn as being of limited use because while knowing more about someone in advance may help in deciding whom to call, that information alone isn't much use unless you form a personal connection. "Because it's so easy to form links" Greene told us "a connection between two people doesn't mean that much. They send what I consider the equivalent of spam messages to all contacts in a member's Outlook address book, with an annoying form-letter style message."

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The 19th hole

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