The first time business users look at Twitter, they have to be intrigued. It's a great way to determine the status of employees--where they're traveling, what they're working on, and even what they are reading or discussing. And it's a great tool for sending out questions to the entire company or going over new ideas.
But few companies would want to do this on a public network such as Twitter. The last thing you want is for your competitors to know where your top salespeople are travelling or what ideas your research teams are throwing around.
The solution is to implement an access-controlled Twitter-like service for business use. This is pretty much the idea behind Socialcast.
To get started with Socialcast I simply went to www.socialcast.com and started up a company account (free for up to 10 users, and $1 per month for each additional user with special pricing for large companies).
With the signup, Socialcast provides a unique company URL in the form of companyname.socialcast.com. This is good from a company branding standpoint, though at first it was a little confusing when I forgot my custom site name.
When I first logged into Socialcast, it definitely seemed similar to Twitter, though with a nicer look and some key differences. For example, instead of asking "What are you doing?" Socialcast asks "What's on your mind?"
Users can enter standard Twitter-like messages about their status and things they are thinking about. Messages can be entered from the main Socialcast screen or sent through e-mail to the service. Socialcast also has some nice tools to categorize and tag messages.
Any message that ends in a question mark gets classified as a Question and can then be searched and sorted in this way. Special tags can also be used within messages to help with filtering and searching.
For example, putting #idea in a message will classify it as an idea. This also works with any tag you want to use simply by putting # in front of a word. So it would be possible to classify all sales discussions by adding #sales to these messages.
Messages can have any file type attached to them (with images appearing in the message), and can also be put into company-configurable categories.
Like Twitter, employees can choose to follow other employees on Socialcast and stay up-to-date on all of their messages. Users can reply to other messages both publicly and privately.
A nice feature allowed for the creation of public and private groups; in the latter, users can join and engage in special topic discussions or in discussions private to all but the group members.
Users can choose to integrate external feeds and services, bringing about capabilities similar to those in FriendFeed. However, in a business system, this could potentially get out of hand the way some feeds are constantly updated.
The social networking aspects of Socialcast are fairly basic but effective. Users create profiles with all of their relevant company and contact information, and other users can easily view this data by using the People tab and search within Socialcast.
As an administrator, users can carry out some simple customization and configuration within Socialcast to change the look of pages and add company logos. Socialcast also provides an analytics screen that tracks usage of the system and offers a quick visual glance at the type of discussions occurring.