The Natural Collaborative Interface is No Interface

B. Shimmin
B. Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • Enterprise social networking vendors are beginning to focus their efforts on embedding collaborative functions within external applications and services.
  • The real magic, however, rests in making transparent the ties that bind all applications, their content and the  humans that use them.

I’ve been watching the middleware and software development space for some time, which has made me somewhat biased toward the idea of applications talking amongst themselves and greatly appreciative of the difficulties involved in doing so. This unifying act of connectivity and machine-level collaboration is so difficult in fact, that not every company has found pure middleware, service oriented architecture (SOA) nirvana. It’s interesting then and maybe a bit surprising to see enterprise social networking (ESN) begin to play a similar unifying role, at least for humans and the content they interact with in their daily travels.

From very early on collaboration platform players like IBM, Jive, Google, Telligent, and TIBCO have sought to ply ESNs as a unifying “social” layer, building plug-ins for external applications such as Microsoft SharePoint. But about a year ago, these same vendors decided to deconstruct their offerings, embedding basic ESN functions like related documents, conversations and people directly within those third-party applications. We’ll see this approach play out fully with IBM’s forthcoming Lotus Notes/Domino Social Edition.

But there’s more to this story still to come. A third wave is underway, where ESNs attempt the greatest trick every played – to disappear altogether. If you look closely at Jive’s newly minted Jive Anywhere feature and newcomer Scrybe Convo’s natural user interface, you’ll see these same two unifying moves (unify and embed) applied not just to a few select applications via hard-wired plug-ins and API-level integrations but to the Web itself. These solutions, either within the browser (as with Jive Anywhere) or as a part of the desktop (as with Scrybe Convo), seek to socialize content and actions regardless of where they happen. If a user sees an image or a link or a document that’s pertinent to a given project or task, that user can share and collaborate on that resource in situ using all of the features available within the underlying ESN.

This allows an ESN to serve as both a repository and a connector, gathering, storing and surfacing valuable social intelligence — all without forcing users to choose from a short list of supported third-party applications or to work within the confines of a single activity stream interface. Like all similar efforts before, these approaches from Scrybe and Jive have their limitations. There is no free lunch, after all. But as time goes on, these and other vendors stand a very real chance of achieving a flavor of middleware and SOA’s grand theory of unification.

What do you think?

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