Enterprises are getting a new tool for building online special interest communities with the release this week of a social networking platform from Web Crossing.
Called WebCrossing Neighbors, the platform will allow different organizations—enterprises, nonprofits or government agencies—to set “private-label social networks,” said Michael Krieg, Web Crossings vice president of sales and marketing.
WebCrossing Neighbors is a hosted package that enables organizations to set up customized social networks that project their brands and business objectives, Krieg said. The networks can be set up to serve employees, customers, suppliers or special interest enthusiasts, he said.
The package provides tools for setting up Web sites that provide common areas for special interest groups, personal user spaces, discussions, blogs, file and photo sharing, search, and user access controls, among others.
The features are the same as those users would find on widely used social networking sites on the Web except that the hosting organization has complete control over the features and appearance as well as user access, Krieg said. Network members will have the ability to link up their personal specials with friends, colleagues and business associates.
Web Crossing is one of the survivors of the online collaboration system vendors that emerged during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. It has prospered selling products that allow people to collaborate through online forums and message boards.
However, Krieg noted that customers have shown increasing interest in setting up full-scale social networking platforms. “They are looking at sites like MySpace and Facebook and seeing how rapidly those sites have grown and the enthusiasm people display when they are using those sites,” he said. They would like to build the same kinds of sites for some kind of specific marketing or community purpose, he said.
WebCrossing Neighbors is designed to enable an organization to build a social network “under their own brand and exercise their own controls about who the members are and focus it in a purposeful way to the ends of the organization rather than just being available for anybody to do pretty much whatever they want,” as is the case with general-purpose social networking sites, said Krieg.
CarSpace.com, an online community for automotive enthusiasts, is one of Web Crossings customers that want to make that transition.
CarSpace has been in business since early 1997, and “we were actually one of the very first aggregators of online automotive communities. So we have a very large online community of forums for car enthusiasts,” said Sylvia Marino, CarSpaces senior director.
“For us, a social network is kind of that next evolutionary phase of online communities,” she said. CarSpace wants to go beyond the forums and message boards it currently offers to a full-scale social networking environment “where you are putting people at the center,” Marino said.
It was also important for CarSpace to work with a social networking platform that ensured control over the look and feel of the environment. Building and protecting the brand identity of CarSpace and its parent company Edmunds.com, an automobile pricing, review and comparison Web site, is an important issue, she said.
“Private label for us is the only way that we would go,” Marino said.
Web Crossing is convinced corporate social networking will become more important, especially to multinational corporations that have employees posted around the world, Krieg said. Business globalization means that colleagues cant meet around the water cooler to share news and ideas as readily as they did in earlier decades, he observed.
Business applications for social networking are “something that we are going to see coming about in future years,” Krieg said. “Its certainly not a big-time thing yet. But as a software developer, we like to be a little ahead of the curve.”
Web Crossing is delivering the package as a server application that is hosted at its facilities with prices starting at $195 per month for 1,000 users, with each user having access to 14MB of data storage. Additional information and a guided tour of WebCrossing Neighbors is available at the companys Web site.