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Is Social Computing Relevant Inside your Organization?

As a software architect and strategist I think I would be irresponsible if I ignored the new technologies centered around social computing.

Since some of my clients are using SharePoint to host external sites and build communities certainly there might be a marketing aspect which would include using social technologies to foster a user base and enhance communications. With these external SharePoint projects I find it much, much easier to clearly articulate why clients need to use the social components of SharePoint.

It is a little more challenging for me to depict the evolution of software from enterprise based to social based inside the corporate firewall. This is complicated even more when I discover that enterprise computing concepts have to coexist with social computing. Be clear I DO see the need for both to exist for many, many organizations.

It is the blend of these two concepts which is still a mystery to many. How can they exist? How can IT maintain a top down control of structured content (taxonomy) while at the same time fostering a bottom up unstructured approach to information (folksonomy)? Using SharePoint 2010 the Managed Metadata store supports this model via structure and unstructured terms sets. These term sets can be enforced for structured content and not for unstructured. Certainly many companies will benefit from the ability to have individuals tag and rate content in a structured way.

I like to compare the “Google vs. Facebook” approach to finding content. A search engine that uses algorithms to categorize and find content (Fast, Google, SharePoint Search) can be useful when searching for terms and patterns.

In other applications like Facebook and Twitter when we allow users or friends with similar interests to tag or rate content as a community the information we find tends to be a little more specific or meaningful. I submit that both the Google and Facebook approach are needed by many organizations and for many these technologies will be easiest to implement using SharePoint 2010.

The same questions and concerns regarding social computing were raised when companies had to decide whether to allow employees access to the internet. Many feared that countless hours would be wasted by people shopping, betting on football, etc. Certainly in some companies this can be an issue however the productivity gains of allowing internet access to employees seems to have outweighed any loss of productivity. Many times these technologies have an inherent way of being self policing in addition they can be monitored with software.

That’s all I have for now. I still insist there is no right answer and “It depends”.

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