A Social Networking River

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2007-11-20 Print this article Print

Runs Through Your Web Mail"> Gmail and Yahoo Mail boast hundreds of millions of users, so the proposition of blending Web mail with social networking tools must be a tantalizing one for Google and Yahoo. While the hybrid platforms would help the companies compete with Lotus Connections on the business side, the vendors would also be able to challenge Facebook and MySpace, planting fresh stakes in the social networking online ad grab. Though an attractive value proposition, the act is not without its challenges; unlike users of social networks, e-mail users arent used to having their personal information on display, so getting them to allow companies to render their e-mail inboxes, address books or profiles for viewing by other users could be a Herculean task. Furthermore, such hybrid systems could seriously challenge the ethical walls in businesses financial services firms, where brokers and analysts traditionally arent permitted to collaborate.
Perhaps no one knows this better than Jeff Schick, vice president of social software for IBM Lotus. People are very sensitive about attempts to mine e-mail for social data, so any social software needs to have a way to restrict or turn that capability off, Schick told eWEEK Nov. 20.
However, turning that capability off can dramatically decrease the amount of social data in a network, especially if there arent other social software services to pull information from. Lotus Connections includes five different services that contribute social data so it can fit many different use patterns. Click here to read about Yahoos $350 million purchase of e-mail and collaboration software maker Zimbra. Mike Gotta, an analyst for Burton Group, said Google and Yahoo would likely have to offer such a system as an opt-in choice so as not to put off users who dont want to share their e-mail data. But even those users who opt in want a degree of control. Companies would also have to put mechanisms in place to let users decide whether they want to share only their header information—to, from, cc, subject—or let others access the body of the messages as well. "You step on the tripwire, which is privacy," Gotta told eWEEK Nov. 19. "You have to be very careful. Its like that line from Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility." Schick said customers want to access social data from many different applications, noting that IBM allows users to access Lotus Connection data from an e-mail client, instant message client, word processor, portal or RSS reader, among other sources. Google and Yahoo would have to conduct considerable tests with such e-mail networks, striking a balance between openness and pleasing people on the privacy front. Bock said messaging inside the enterprise is "frozen in time," thanks to the two most widely deployed messaging applications, Microsoft Outlook/Exchange and IBM Lotus Notes. He concluded that the industry has to do a lot more with features relating to privacy, security, organizational boundaries and context. Check out eWEEK.coms for more on IM and other collaboration technologies.


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