One on One with JB Holston of NewsGator

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JB Holston is CEO of NewsGator, the company helping make SharePoint and the Microsoft stack more social. He leads the social software company with more 3 million installed users. We asked him about trends in social software and the challenges of being a SharePoint partner.

FCM: Describe NewsGator's transition from corporate RSS to Enterprise 2.0?

JBH: As blogs exploded in popularity a few years ago, RSS became essential plumbing to connect people to content. After delivering our first behind-the-firewall RSS server in 2005, we saw many large customers deploying it along with SharePoint and some custom work to create what would later be called 'enterprise 2.0', or Facebook for the enterprise-type applications. At the same time, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) approached us about integrating our technology more directly with SharePoint to create an easy, out-of-the-box solution for the range of consumer functions wrapped up in Enterprise 2.0. Combining input from customers and Microsoft, we released our first Social Sites product with Microsoft at the E 2.0 show in Boston in the summer of 2007. Since then our business has become almost entirely about 'social business,' the application of consumer technologies and approaches to the enterprise. RSS remains a foundational technology for that work.

FCM: What kind of challenges do you face as a SharePoint partner in terms of increasing your functionality to be more than what SharePoint offers out of the box?

JBH: We work with a wide range of Microsoft technologies, from Lync to Azure to Dynamics, in addition to SharePoint. Microsoft does a marvelous job of releasing fundamental platforms for organizations, and an even better job at driving the distribution and adoption of those technologies. Historically, their release cycle for those platforms, including SharePoint, has averaged about every three years. We work very, very closely with Microsoft on joint roadmaps to ensure we're adding value to their work. However, as the consumerization of IT has accelerated, and as consumer social networking technologies have increased their rate of innovation, the opportunities to add value to those Microsoft platforms with solutions that bring them closer to the ways individuals are used to working at home have only multiplied, and we don't see any diminution in that pace in the next few years; the new world of work is still very young.

FCM: One of the big advantages of enterprise social is the knowledge sharing aspect of it, but once information leaves the main data stream, how do users find those useful nuggets again, especially amidst all the noise?

JBH: This will increasingly be the main problem to solve. Historically, innovations like tablets, microblogging and people-centric social networks have liberated interactivity. But that liberation has led to an explosion of unstructured content, too-often manifested in a plethora of sites or places that compete for the individual's attention. A lot of our work is focused on the fundamental intellectual property around what we call 'smart simplicity'; the ability of the system to parse the noise and present just what you need now, wherever you are--in the simplest, easiest-to-use interface possible. It is still in the early phase, but it's exciting to envision where this will all be soon with much more visual, touch-and voice-based interfaces.

FCM: How many companies are really taking enterprise social seriously and are we starting to see data to support some of the advantages of using a social approach to knowledge sharing?

JBH: The market has moved very rapidly. The preponderance of the Global 2000 have structured enterprise social initiatives today. Organizations see changing their collaboration paradigm from document- or artifact-centricity, to people-centered, as a vital competitive advantage. Companies talk to us about their need to 'roll out the social fabric' as broadly and quickly as possible. They understand that their workforce now expects to work that way, and that the advantages to 'social' increase exponentially as a function of the number of people who have access to the capability.

The data from sources such as McKinsey and AIIM (with whom we completed some excellent research late last year with Professor McAfee of MIT on adoption of these technologies) is eliminating any concerns organizations have about utility and ROI. The focus now is much more on picking partners that can help the organization deploy these capabilities most effectively and efficiently at global enterprise scale.

FCM: Enterprise social seems to be at a cross-roads. Where do you see the sector going this year?

JBH: I see three big trends this year: 1. Every vendor is adding 'social' to their software 2. Organizations increasingly consider this an enterprise-class decision, and 3. The pace of change for consumer social networks will increase rather than slow down. We're at the beginnings of the era of 'smart simplicity' for social networking, where access to anyone you need to work with and any bit of content that's useful will just be an expected element of every moment of every day.

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