Social Bookmarking Apps Provide a New Knowledge Management Platform

 
 
By Dave Greenfield  |  Posted 2007-08-12
 
 
 

Social Bookmarking Apps Provide a New Knowledge Management Platform


 

Social Bookmarking Apps Provide


a New Knowledge Management Platform">

IBM Lotus, BEA Systems and a string of startups are aiming for corporate "power to the people" in the form of Web 2.0 software. But can any system managed by the masses be truly effective in the enterprise?

Pundits for new, enterprise-oriented social bookmarking and tagging systems claim they can provide what knowledge management systems havent: easy and secure storage, retrieval, and sharing of valuable documentation within an organization and around the Internet.

By enabling users to "tag" documents and then track them across user bases, enterprise bookmarking systems can promote or demote a document based on its popularity. Think Delicious (http://del.icio.us) inside your firewall.

In fact, the process isnt all that different from a traditional bookmarking service. As users visit pages, they fill out a form for their bookmark by entering the URL, a brief description (the tag), status of the page (private or not) and other information. The data from the form is stored in a central database. Users can then retrieve their bookmarks or those of others, assuming privacy and security restrictions allow it.

But for organizations, and particularly hierarchical ones, the wisdom of the crowds—or "folksonomies"—­suggests a knowledge management system gone mad. For years, IT departments have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars carefully cultivating infrastructure and taxonomies to classify documents across the enterprise. While these taxonomies might have been static at times, at least they provided consistency.

Given enough active users, folksonomies can be self-correcting. But organizational hierarchies and complex, first-generation Enterprise 2.0 software make it hard to attain sufficient involvement within the enterprise. The immaturity of many Enterprise 2.0 products doesnt help, either. Basic security and privacy requirements may not be met, and user interaction needs to be better conceived. Costs can also mount quickly.

Nevertheless, IT cannot ignore the emerging area of enterprise social bookmarking. Unlike the much-touted but failed groupware of the 1990s, enterprise bookmarking systems leverage two well-tested usability factors: Users want to recall valuable documents, and tagging is a growing means of doing so. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 28 percent of Internet users tag documents, including 7 percent daily. These figures will only climb as Generation Y moves into the workplace.

A recent survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a provider of business intelligence, showed that 85 percent of CXOs see Web 2.0 as a means of increasing revenue and profit margins. "Were all looking at these technologies as a way of increasing collaboration within our organizations," said Norm Jacknis, CIO for Westchester County, N.Y.

Enterprise bookmarking and tagging systems reflect this team spirit.

Tools of the trade

The full range of social software tools includes blogs, which let employees express themselves; user profiles, which provide users with their own internal Web pages, including personal information as well as automatically generated links to content theyve created and their bookmarks; social networking capabilities, which connect colleagues online (think LinkedIn); groups and communities, which bring together co-workers with common interests; collaboration features, which include a variety of commonly used software components such as to-do lists and calendaring; and user-driven mashups, which combine the results of different enterprise applications.

For this special report, eWEEK assessed the four enterprise social bookmarking solutions currently available.

Click here to try the enterprise social bookmarking apps.

IBM Lotus and BEA provide enterprise bookmarking as packaged software. Lotus Connections is a software suite that provides all the capabilities mentioned above except user mashups. Dogear is Connections bookmarking component. BEA Pathways provides the bookmarking function for the companys AquaLogic SOA (service-oriented architecture) suite, which offers social networking as well as mashups. Pathways also boasts a unique ranking algorithm.

Connectbeam, a 16-person startup thats just raised $3.5 million in its Series A round, offers the only appliance in the social bookmarking arena: Connectbeam Application. The product is well-integrated with leading enterprise search engines, includes social networking capabilities and requires no back-end software.

Cogenz, an even smaller startup based in the United Kingdom, is the only service provider of the four. Cogenzs service is distinguished by its low price and Delicious migration capabilities, and the company expects to package its services as software in the fall.

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Enterprise bookmarking and tagging systems are more effective when integrated into an organizations collaborative landscape. IBM Lotus, for example, allows bookmarks to be used as part of the same virtual space used for tracking and working on a given project. The tasks and items created in that space are also accessible through Notes.

Other vendors, such as Jive Software, allow users to tag documents but not Web pages. Jive Software Chief Technology Officer Matt Tucker said bookmarking capabilities will likely be added soon, but he did not say if Jive will develop the capabilities in-house or partner with another vendor to obtain the technology.

Microsoft has no social bookmarking solution today. Having just revised SharePoint, the company probably wont release such a package before 2009, said Burton Group analyst Mike Gotta. WSSSearch provides a bookmarking add-on for SharePoint, but representatives for the company did not return eWEEKs requests for information.

Security and privacy

Of course, user buy-in is critical to successful deployment of these systems. Reaching such a critical mass among the Internets millions of users is difficult, but doing so on a closed intranet is an even bigger challenge. In a company, the user base is relatively small, and communities are often segmented by regulatory concerns and organizational norms, which is counter to Web 2.0 premises.

At a minimum, enterprise bookmarking systems should authenticate system access, integrate with existing identity repositories and restrict user access as needed. None of the products we looked at addresses all those points.

All enterprise bookmarking systems provide password-based authentication. IBM Lotus and BEAs solutions tie in to LDAP and Microsofts Active Directory, and Connectbeams offering is expected to provide integration with both in September. Cogenzs Enterprise Edition integrates with neither.

Restricting user access is often the weakest link in these products. Only Connectbeams Application prevents groups from viewing one anothers bookmarks and bookmarked documents. IBM Lotus Connections offers tiers of roles and permissions, allowing users to be an author or reader and to view or not view documents. Documents can be "classified," but tags and descriptions are visible to all.

BEAs AquaLogic Pathways can segment users into groups and provides administrative control over 12 security assignments, including the rights to view everyones tags, create views, or add favorites and contacts. However, like IBM Lotus solution, AquaLogic Pathways restricts access to pages but not bookmarks.

Enterprise Edition users can mark documents as public or private, but there are no group restrictions. Since Cogenzs offering is a service, it uses SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to encrypt traffic and authenticates access to RSS feeds based on user profiles. No other vendors offer encryption.

Tag, youre it

All the products evaluated here encourage bookmarking adoption by enabling users to tag themselves and one another. This functionality allows users to associate themselves with topics of interest, enabling the organization and individuals to find subject-matter experts, form teams or organize into microcommunities within the company.

AquaLogic Pathways goes a step further by allowing users to be ranked based on several factors, including the number of individuals tagging them and linking to their content. By exposing and reinforcing a users status as an "expert," organizations uncover new experts and encourage adoption of the technology.

Regardless, the process of adding bookmarks needs to be painless, or people just wont do it. On this score, the results are mixed.

To get things going, BEA and Connectbeam provide automatic tag generation for existing documents. While an initial help, ­system-generated­ tags are often more imprecise and less useful than human-generated tags.

For that reason, Cogenz, Connect­beam and IBM Lotus allow users to tag pages without leaving their browsers—they simply pop up new windows. BEA allows URL submissions only through AquaLogic Pathways interface. A browser plug-in is being beta tested and is scheduled to be available by the end of August.

Theres much more that vendors can do in general to encourage consistent tagging across the enterprise. Typos, misspellings and inadequate labeling can create folksonomy discrepancies. Enterprise tagging systems must develop the intelligence to help users tag correctly yet effortlessly. At the very least, an auto-complete function should kick in when the software finishes typing a tag already in the system. Only IBM Lotus and Cogenz currently offer such a feature.

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More sophisticated would be a self-learning system that suggests tags based on current tagging patterns. Thus, if a user tags a document "foo," the application might return a message saying, "Eighty percent of users who tagged a document foo also tagged it barr. Would you like to tag the document barr?" No such capability exists today.

Bringing it home

Usability also extends to the retrieval of bookmarked results. Optimally, those results should be integrated into the enterprise search engine and displayed alongside regular search results. While every product but Cogenzs Enterprise Edition returns bookmarked results within search results, only Connectbeam does so on leading enterprise search platforms Fast and Google. IBM and BEA use their own search engines, each of which has smaller market share than Fast or Google.

As for ranking bookmarked results, Connections, Application and Enterprise Edition all rank documents based on popularity: The more bookmarks referencing the page, the higher its ranking. But not all authors are equal, and treating results from experts and novices alike is deceiving. The same goes for the bookmarkers themselves: Experts should have more weight.

To address these issues, BEA has developed an ActivityRank for each item and user in the system. Administrators can adjust the relative influence of each rank factor, such as authors and submitters ranks and the rank and number of people whove edited, bookmarked, tagged and viewed the document. Similar elements can be applied to the ActivityRank of individuals as well.

BEAs solution can also expire links from old bookmarks, forcing inactive, top-ranked pages from dominating search results.

Finally, all the products expose the tag cloud, revealing tags others have used. All but Cogenzs Enterprise Edition use bold and larger font sizes to indicate more popular tags. BEA officials say they are modifying the tag cloud to depict the relationship between content and user, a capability thats expected to be available in the first half of 2008.

Bookmarking price

It can be difficult to get a firm price on enterprise bookmarking systems, either because of additional software requirements or market pressures. To help get a better handle on the deal, eWEEK asked vendors to price out a two-site installation for 5,000 users.

IBM Lotus Connections costs $110 per user for the first year with a yearly maintenance fee thereafter. So expect to spend at least $550,000 in the first year for our 5,000-user scenario, making Connections the most expensive of the products. Then again, Connections includes more functionality than the other players. And, if you average out that one-time charge across the five social software tools in Connections, the price compares favorably with competitors.

AquaLogic Pathways costs $40,000 per CPU, or $64 per user and $80,000 for our 5,000-user scenario. Once again, thats not the full story, as additional BEA software is required. At the very least, AquaLogic Interaction will be needed for security and searches.

Not surprisingly, the two startups do not require the purchase of sister software packages. Connectbeam charges a yearly fee with tiered pricing based on number of users, starting at $20 per user or $100,000 per year for 5,000 users. Cogenz charges $2 per user per month, or $120,000 in the 5,000-user scenario.

Dave Greenfield is a 20-year networking veteran and the principal of Strategic Technology Analytics. He can be reached at dave@stanalytics.com.

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