It's fair to say that 2008 has been a social year, a fact reflected in the latest Magic Quadrant for Social Software, put together by Gartner analysts. The buzz around social and collaborative efforts in the business arena has blossomed -- and it shows in the vendor assessment. Twenty new social software vendors were added to the list -- the majority of vendor activity resting within the "Niche Players" quadrant. There are no leaders gracing the quadrant for the second year in a row, which is indicative of what Gartner analysts have called an "immature market."
"Growth, volatility, innovation, and immaturity characterize the current state of the social software market," write the Magic Quadrant authors -- Nikos Drakos, Anthony Bradley, and Jeffrey Mann. They maintain, however, that despite how far away the market is from developing mature solutions, there are still solid choices out there for specific collaborative and social requirements. Much of the technology has been derived from social tools made popular on the consumer side, the analysts say. "We are seeing pent-up demand from workers who use these technologies on the consumer Internet and enthusiasm from some business managers who expect these tools to help them boost the connectedness and performance of their workers," they write. Although interest is building both on the vendor and the end-user sides, the Magic Quadrant maintains that user investments in collaboration support for social interaction is fairly small and deployments throughout an entire enterprise are rare.
Drakos, Bradley, and Mann expect that to change -- and the marketplace to shift -- as enterprises look for greater vendor stability: "Although there is plenty of opportunity for market expansion, we expect that the traction enjoyed by smaller vendors will begin to erode as enterprises demand better support, as established vendors begin to offer ‘good enough' capabilities, and as early adopters are joined by more conservative buyers." Options for social software are plentiful, yet the analysts note that newer providers still lack market experience and enterprise deployments.
These newer providers typically end up in Gartner's Niche Players quadrant -- which is where the innovation is taking place, the analysts say: "Social software support is becoming one of the most important areas of differentiation between established vendors playing catch-up and newcomers that have managed to attract early adopters with products that provide exactly these capabilities."
So what defines social software? Gartner defines a provider of a social software product as one that gives its users the following collaborative Web 2.0 functionalities:
- user social tags;
- social bookmarks;
- social network analysis;
- social network visualization;
- content feeds;
- people search (expertise location);
- content rating;
- reputation management; and
Additionally, the tools allow business users to:
- find out about each other;
- form teams, communities, or informal groups;
- collaborate on the same work objects;
- discuss and comment on their work;
- organize work from their perspective;
- identify relevant work;
- discover other people with common interests; and
- learn from others' expertise.
Despite the young players included in this year's report, Gartner predicts eventual -- and inevitable -- consolidation. Even as larger vendors gobble up smaller, innovative ones, the analysts still sound a note of concern: "What should be kept in mind...is that volatility and risk is not only associated with smaller vendors but also with larger vendors."
It's worth mentioning that Gartner changed the name of the report from last year's "Team Collaboration and Social Software," dropping the first half of the title because of the inclusion of wikis and blogs this year. Furthermore, in scoring the vendors, the analysts raised the bar a bit from last year. The minimum number of users has been raised from 5,000 to 50,000 and the product's use must not be limited to a particular vertical or business process.
Partly as a result, seven vendors that had appeared in the 2007 edition failed to make the cut this year. Three of those dropped were eliminated due to acquisitions (BEA Systems, bought by Oracle; SiteScape, acquired by Novell; and Social Platform, which was snapped up by Onesite), but the other four (Communispace, Suite Two, Outstart, and Ramius' Community Zero) were dropped because they no longer met the analyst firm's higher threshold for functionality or market presence.
Despite the deletions, the report itself is far broader in scope than ever before, with 20 new vendors added to the evaluation matrix: AskMe-realcom, Blogtronix, Drupal, EPiServer, eTouch, FatWire, Google, Huggle, Igloo, Josh, Lithium Technologies, LiveWorld, Mzinga, Liferay, Novell, Onesite, PBwiki, Small World Labs, ThoughtFarmer, and Tomoye. All of the newcomers landed in the Niche Players segment.
Just as in 2007, Gartner believes that no vendors in this space have yet achieved the status of leadership -- and consequently the report's Leaders quadrant remains empty again this year. "Although about half the vendors rated here are well established with widely used collaboration offerings, some are still trying to catch up, while others are struggling to remain relevant in a fast changing marketplace," the report states. Gartner's other three segments are presented as follows:
- Jive Software
Niche Players (listed here in alphabetical order):
- blueKiwi Software
- Leverage Software
- Lithium Technologies
- Open Touch
- Six Apart
- Small World Labs
- Traction Software
Several newer players are missing from this year's report but threaten to make the grade for next year's, including Cisco Systems' WebEx, Oracle's new Beehive release, Sun Microsystems (thanks to its collaboration with Liferay), and smaller vendors such as Brainkeeper, CrowdFactory, CollectiveX, GroupSwim, HiveLive, Hyperknowledge, Intridea, KnowledgeTree, Limehouse Software, Near-Time, and SelectMinds.
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