Thanks to the influence of Facebook and Twitter, social network services may usurp e-mail as the main method for communications among 20 percent of all business workers, one of five social software predictions issued by Gartner analysts Feb. 2.
Gartner's Matt Cain said the rigid distinction between e-mail and social networks will erode by 2014, paving the way for social network services as the main vehicle for communication among colleagues in a fifth of knowledge workers.
College-age users from the digital generation are growing up using Facebook and Twitter, which account for more than 400 million users combined worldwide. Many of those users continue to use these services to communicate with colleagues once they enter the workforce, whether their IT managers know it or not.
Indeed, social networking will prove more effective than e-mail for status updates and expertise location, so companies will be building out internal social networks and/or allowing business use of personal social network accounts. In fact, e-mail itself is getting increasingly social, thanks to free plug-ins such as Xobni, Gist and other technologies that inject connections from Facebook and LinkedIn into Microsoft Outlook and Gmail accounts.
"While e-mail is already almost fully penetrated in the corporate space, we expect to see steep growth rates for sales of premises- and cloud-based social networking services," Cain said.
This bodes well for the burgeoning segment of enterprise-grade social network platforms from the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, and startups such as Jive Software, Mindtouch and Socialtext, as well as microblogging tool providers Socialcast and Yammer.
A word of caution for the stand-alone microblogging tool providers: You may want to consider differentiating and building out your services, if not selling them outright to the larger companies who need to fill holes in their portfolios. Gartner predicted that while more than 50 percent of enterprises will use activity streams that include microblogging by 2012, stand-alone enterprise microblogging will have less than 5 percent penetration.
"It will be very difficult for microblogging as a stand-alone function to achieve widespread adoption within the enterprise. Twitter's scale is one of the reasons for its popularity," said Gartner's Jeffrey Mann.