One on One with Ross Mayfield of Socialtext


Ross Mayfield is the chairman, president and co-founder of Socialtext, a company he helped form in 2002 to bring Wikis to the enterprise (at at time when few knew what a Wiki was). Since then Socialtext has grown into a comprehensive Enterprise 2.0 solution that provides Facebook and Twitter-style functionality in the enterprise to over 4,000 customers. Mayfield is also a blogger, speaker and active participant in social media communities. We asked Mayfield about how his company has grown with Web 2.0 and social media itself, the impact this is having on his business and the growing awareness of these tools in the enterprise.

FCM: When we spoke the other day, we talked about how social media platforms were becoming the new Intranets. How do you see your suite of tools (and social media tools in general) fitting into the existing enterprise tools like intranets and content management systems?

RM: Today companies seek to build social Intranets, social extranets and/or social media. Social Intranets increase employee engagement so the organization moves faster. Social extranets make partners more effective and foster customer intimacy, with private sharing and collaboration towards common goals. Social Media is public facing use of social software, which either takes form of engaging with existing web communities or creating your own.

Intranets were deployed widely just after the rise of the web, with the value proposition of saving time looking for information. First through top-down communication and classification, then with enhanced search and centrally exposing enterprise applications. Unfortunately, it's hard to save time looking for information that doesn't exist. The editorial and publishing process is a barrier to participation. And without employee participation they not only don't contribute, but they disengage. Keeping their knowledge hidden in folders or lost in inboxes.

Social Intranets enable employee participation and engagement. They can collaboratively publish with Wikis and weblogs and provide open feedback. Social Networking surfaces the identities of employees and makes expertise become discoverable. Social messaging keeps everyone connected and sharing faster. Widgets and mashups makes publishing applications happen faster and not just from the IT department. Leveraging standards, Social Intranets can complement legacy Intranets, but in some organizations it can replace them entirely.

FCM: You recently added a microblogging application to Socialtext called Socialtext Signals. What prompted you to include this functionality and why do you think that companies are looking for a dedicated microblogging application? (As opposed to using a tool like Twitter, which I know you also use.)

RM: The popularity of social messaging is no surprise. Simple, brief, opt-in and open messaging helps people share and converse more efficiently than email, IM or forums. Twitter has gained over 6 million users, continues to grow at breakneck speed, and 90% of users have chosen to make their messages public. Over 15 million people update their status on Facebook every day.

We saw an opportunity to adapt these social dynamics for private use by employees, partners and customers. Privacy actually enables people to share more. But an even greater opportunity was to provide an integrated user experience across the Socialtext platform. Being able to Signal in context while getting work done fosters more productive conversations. You can Signal when you have created content, discover people through your content, discover content through your people and manage your attention across what people are working on efficiently.

FCM: You also recently added an Adobe AIR desktop application in addition to your web-based app. Why do you think you need a desktop app in addition to the one that runs in the browser?

RM: I liken Adobe AIR to "SAAS for the desktop." It runs across Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. And enables us to efficiently update the software, which is important for Socialtext, which provides new releases at least every two weeks. But the real power is delivering a rich Internet application that enables users to dynamically manage their attention, post Signals and be notified when something is new. With Signals and Desktop in addition to our other offerings, we provide a unique combination of social real-time and asynchronous collaboration.

FCM: You were one of the earlier enterprise Wiki and blogging tools. How has the market changed since you first launched?

RM: We founded Socialtext in December 2002 with the simple insight that innovation is happening faster on the web with technologies that had better social dynamics than enterprise software. And the opportunity was to adapt the technologies rapidly to work in the context of organizations. When we started as the first enterprise social software company, nobody knew what the word Wiki meant. There was a lot of market education that happened both because of us, and the rise of consumer social software.

Today we have expanded enterprise-class Wiki and weblog offering to become a powerful social software platform. We added Socialtext People for social networking and Socialtext Dashboard to manage attention with OpenSocial standard-based widgets and mashups. Our web-oriented architecture makes it easy to extend Socialtext capabilities or make other enterprise applications social. While Wikis are the most widely adopted enterprise social software, the market has shifted to demand broader platform capabilities for real time and asynchronous collaboration networks. I believe we are well positioned to meet this demand today, with an unsurpassed track record of adoption and value.

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