Thomson Bags B2B Social Search Vendor

Contact's ContactNet, a search application, IDs colleagues who have the strongest relationships with a client or prospect.

Proving several analysts clairvoyant, or at least bullish about the demand for social tools in businesses, The Thomson Corporation, Jan. 15, agreed to buy social search specialist Contact Networks for an undisclosed sum.

Thomson targeted Boston-based Contact for ContactNet, a search application that identifies colleagues who have the strongest relationships with a client or prospect.

ContactNet collects and prioritizes a business' internal relationships with business contacts from other companies, making it relatively easy to see who knows whom. This saves users the time and trouble of blasting out company-wide e-mails, trolling through a database, or manually hunting for data on a computer.

For example, if you're at a global law firm of 5,000 partners and you type in the term "Tivo," ContactNet will display a list of your colleagues who might have a relationship to Tivo, explained Geoffrey Hyatt, Contact's founder and CEO. "It's their reach and relationship network that are clearly better, so that's the problem we wanted to solve," he said.

This has the effect of gathering everybody in a room and having them raise their hand if they know Tivo. ContactNet then ranks the relationship strength.

To do this, the software culls data from address books, e-mail logs and CRM (customer relationship management) applications. Using proprietary search algorithms, filtering and de-duplication technology, ContactNet pinpoints search matches, creating a searchable database that displays the strongest connections first.

Thomson, headquartered in Stamford, Conn., will let Contact continue independently in Boston, but will offer to integrate ContactNet with its existing business intelligence and relationship management services for legal, financial services and other markets, Hyatt said.

Ever since social networks MySpace and Facebook became smash hits in the consumer sector a few years ago, companies have looked for social media tools that give them a business advantage.

Businesses, including legal firms and marketing agencies, are increasingly using such tools to find referred employees, invite users to events, as well as for cross-selling opportunities and competitive intelligence to gain an edge on rivals.

Enter enterprise software makers such as Contact Networks, which began selling ContactNet as an ERM (enterprise relationship management) tool, not a social network tool, in 2002 before the social phenomenon captured the imagination of the high-tech world and before Lotus Connections and Atlas were twinkles in IBM's eye.

More than 50 organizations, including several law, financial services and consulting firms use ContactNet. The company's customer base includes Skadden Arps, Mintz Levin, Duane Morris, Sheppard Mullin, Boston Consulting Group, Greylock Partners and Sagent Advisors.

With Thomson boasting multi-billion-dollar legal and financial businesses, Hyatt said he expects Contact to be able to leverage its new relationship with Thomson to win new customers. Hyatt also expects to grow his employee base.

ContactNet is used as a stand-alone application or it can be embedded into intranets, extranets and CRM systems.