Microsoft is working on an internal research project exploring a new social network: SOCL.
It appears that the software giant is game to reinvent itself and create a social media solution. While Microsoft still has the money – the question is whether or not they can change their culture from a self centric technology super shop to a community thinking global network. If Socl will ever be launched is still a question. But the billion dollar investment in technology such as Azure needs to find a consumer – and if it is just Microsoft. The 8 Billion acquisition of Skype still needs some justification. But consider a merger of 600 Million Skype users with a Socl type social network and a billion dollar hosting farm – it actually has at least a theoretic chance.
(Image by Sueddeutsche Zeitung)
If Microsoft is actually going out with Socl – I would wonder how many minutes it may take to hear an announcement from Oracle taking it's internal community Mixx to the next level and turning it into a social network. Also Oracle amounted huge computing power with the SUN acquisition and would be able to drive a network for hundreds of millions of users. Well and SAP might be just around the corner. The old ties to IBM may come in very handy when it comes to building the infrastructure for a massive social network for – say a billion users. And if Microsoft, Oracle, SAP is entering the social sphere – Google may actually benefit from the run on social presence creation, connections and relationship building bonanzas. And one more time the connection power houses like Cisco or Avaya and others may even chime into this – with a lot of thrust – no different than in the .com days when it finally became apparent that the Internet will dominate the information exchange across the world.
Is it a good idea? Do we need more networks? Are we willing to be dependent on only a few?
I guess Joe Doe network user who finally learned to use Facebook may say "Absolutely not – let's have one network and be done with it" Very much like in the old days when everybody was backing Microsoft. The dilemma today: Our choice of operating systems is not that big. It is Windows, Windows or Windows. And I personally hope we learned from Communism that monolithic markets are not very competitive. But there are more reasons why we need more social networks. Let me share some:
1) Freedom Of Choice
Probably the most important reason for more networks is freedom of choice. There are people who love Facebook and some who just don't like it for whatever reason. There are people who miss either functionality or the audience they like to communicate with. And if there is a need or want – there is a market. That alone is a reason to see more networks.
2) General Business Networks
Now Facebook and Twitter are great networks to support business people as well, it just doesn't have the functionality nor the appeal to attract all business people on the planet to connect for and with a business reason. There is a huge market and right now no network that is really suitable for business networking. While LinkedIn is often seen as a business network – it is really more a directory then an actual network with engagement and collaboration functionality. The old mechanism of referral networks are still not well represented in the social web. Small and medium businesses will want a service that is dedicated to their needs. Those services do not exist today and both Google and Microsoft could take that market if they understand to fuse needs, wants, networking, social interaction models and openness into one solution.
3) Enterprise Networks
Similar to the general business networks there are different needs in the enterprise space. Just think of a energy provider who is working with approximately 10,000 vendors and in aggregate about 100,000 individuals from those vendors. Networking, communication, knowledge distribution and sharing as well as relationship building is just a bit different than in small business or consumer business. No no no – I'm not talking about an online community – I'm talking about a homogeneous B2B social network across the world that actually may contain communities but as a structure is a global network. However the need that already exists today has no solution to satisfy that need. Project collaboration with all kinds of partners, customers, experts, all not directly connected to a "company internal network" is only one of many requirements. Of course there are tens of thousands of communities, then there are a variety of providers who built one or the other network tool that could do the job – but non of the fortune 5,000 would probably bet their corporate relationship building on a 5 head startup. And here SAP and Oracle or even Salesforce.com have probably a good opportunity to create something of that magnitude. While SAP and Oracle may have the bigger pockets – SFDC is the more agile and serious contender in that field and are already involved in social media with the acquisition of Radian 6 and the early attempt to go social with Chatter.
4) Vertical Networks
While the above options and the existing networks are good for large very horizontally oriented groups of people from around the world, there are more vertical needs like educational networks, governments and others who have special requirements in terms of functionality and content. Social media is accelerating our knowledge availability by an order of magnitude only comparable with the times when books and the printing press was developed. Knowledge distribution focused social networks can at best learn from Facebook but would need to provide very different services and massive amount of computing power to provide a top service around the world. On top of all it would require a business model that allows free knowledge distribution in a profitable manner.
5) Purpose Driven Networks
And like the above there are networks for a specific reason like a church, non profit organizations, sports engaged people across sports disciplines and countries.
We will see more social technology any soon
All of the above are not isolated specific networks or online communities but large scale global networks for hundreds of Millions of enterprise level employees, hundreds of millions SMB employees, hundreds of millions of sports people or church members and so forth.
SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com but also Citrix, VMware and more
Pretty much every technology powerhouse is a possible candidate to enter the social web. With currently 1.1 Billion Social Media users around the world – it's one of the largest markets of all. For none of the mentioned companies Social Media is even close to be considered their core competency – but that is something you can assemble in a rather short period of time :) The past 8 years social media was just a foreplay. Now is the time where it all goes mainstream.