One on One with Brian Kellner of NewsGator

Tools

Brian Kellner has been responsible for overall product management and the consumer business segment at NewsGator where he has worked for 12 years in various product and development positions. We asked him about how NewsGator has changed over the years and how Enterprise 2.0 tools are changing the way organizations interact.

FCM: You were originally an RSS tool. How has the product evolved over the years?

BK: In the beginning, the product theory was that all users would want a personally-managed RSS experience. So many platforms created RSS, it seemed like the obvious choice for consuming information. Over time, we noticed that the enterprise RSS product (NewsGator Enterprise Server or NGES) was often used in conjunction with portal and social computing projects. As we worked with more customers, we found they frequently wanted to augment SharePoint--especially around social computing capabilities. At the same time, Microsoft started asking if we might want to further extend our story on SharePoint. Once we decided to go down the path of creating a Social Sites product for SharePoint, it was a pretty straightforward evolution of augmenting the core social computing concepts that are found everywhere: Profiles, user connections (one-to-one and group), content and metadata, and activity streams and microblogging.

FCM: NewsGator is seen as tied to Microsoft products. Do you think that's limiting for you in any way?

BK: Our strategy creates a lot of leverage, but we do get both technical limitations and market limitations. On the technical side, it’s hard to create the user experience that customers expect from a web 2.0 product. SharePoint (especially MOSS 2007) wasn’t built with AJAX interactions out of the box, and customers typically deploy Social Sites on an existing SharePoint installation, so we don’t control navigation and other UI elements. On the market side, we only sell where SharePoint exists (and typically only to companies who have made it a standard). While we can offer both on-premise and hosted deployments (through MSFT’s BPOS-D platform), we aren’t competing in every RFP. And, by the rules that Gartner established, we cannot be listed in their Magic Quadrant even though we are 3 times to 5 times bigger than most of the other companies. On the plus side, for companies which have chosen to standardize on SharePoint, there are no other vendors close to NewsGator.

FCM: Microsoft just introduced a beta of a micro-blogging tool for Office. Does your company worry that Office or SharePoint could tread on your territory?

BK: We have a great relationship with Microsoft. We do advanced product briefings very frequently. We knew about the Office Labs experiment before it was announced, and they even mentioned NewsGator in their opening paragraph. In general, our challenge is to continuously differentiate from the Microsoft offerings. Given the pace of evolution of social computing and the fact that we release Social Sites every four months, it has been pretty straightforward to show ongoing differentiation from SharePoint. We already have SharePoint 2010 customers, and we have a lot of prospects in evaluation. 

FCM: How have enterprise 2.0 tools changed the way workers collaborate in the enterprise?

BK: From my perspective, the big changes are discoverability of expertise and increased sharing. With enhanced profiles, communities and even expertise scoring features (like Knowledge Explorer in Social Sites), users can find users and groups more easily. Content is more discoverable as well, and this leads back to finding experts more easily. Sharing has increased because it’s easier and there’s more recognition for the value. Microblogging, especially when integrated with the activity streams, leads to very quick and easy ways to ask a question, give a quick answer, share a resource, etc. Extending these stories to mobile devices has been extremely powerful as well.

FCM: Does the communication freedom that enterprise tools offer still scare IT executives or are they beginning to understand the advantages of sharing information in this fashion?

BK: A few groups in the enterprise perceive risk in these solutions. IT, corporate risk management, and HR may all have reservations. We already have features in the product (agreement with specific terms and conditions, opting out of radiating activity) to help address these concerns. As we move forward, I anticipate we will add more of these types of features. At the same time, most enterprises who have implemented have had few, if any, issues. The only two issues I know about are uploading copyrighted images and someone trying to sell their car through the discussion boards. The combination of not having any anonymous actions and users getting experience with consumer solutions seems to have eliminated a lot of problem behavior from enterprise systems that is sometimes seen in consumer systems.

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