Here on the AppsLab team we have always been big believers in the power of people as a design point in applications. My personal background is in the portal space, and for years we preached people-centric. In those days, it meant a user had a configurable homepage with all the content they cared about in a single place. It seemed to work well in the consumer space (see MyYahoo), but never quite had a foothold in the enterprise. I am not saying that the homepage wasn’t sold to the enterprise; I am saying it wasn’t used in the enterprise. Most everyone I knew still went to their MyYahoo page. Something was amiss.
Here we are a few years later and it took sites like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIN and others to show us where we went wrong. The key difference with social sites is that they focus on the connection of people to people. Early portals worried about people connecting to things. People, it seems, are much more interested in other human beings.
In AppsLab we decided to test our belief that there is a real role for social software behind the firewall. Think about it, what are companies if nothing more than the accumulation of talented people?
As we set off on this path we realized that like most of our readers we all had LinkedIN accounts, Facebook profiles, and more. As we began exploring these sites, it became clear that no matter how many people signed up, there were very few who actually used the sites for anything meaningful. In fact, more and more I’d find myself checking my Facebook account just for the ego trip of seeing who “friended” me. After the usual let down (0 friend requests again!), I’d logout and head back home… to my email inbox of course.
So why is it that millions and millions of people can find so much value in these sites, yet for those of us working for the man, we find social sites to be just an interesting experiment rather than an integral part of our daily lives. If you asked the average MySpacer, I can guarantee you that MySpace has become central to them. Their life is on MySpace – you can tell by the fact that the average user stays on the site 27 minutes a day.
So why does this work for MySpace? The simple reason is that they have what their users care about. Behind the firewall however, photos and music don’t go very far. Given our unique position in enterprise software, we like to think we are well poised to provide what business users are actually interested in.
So we set out on this path to understand social networking behind the firewall. Last Friday we launched our first social application. It was a basic directory application with employee names, titles, emails and phone numbers. That’s about it. Rich built it in just a few weeks. The only differentiating feature from our current corporate directory, was that we allowed employees to request other employees to “join their network”.
To “launch” our Alpha, I sent an email to a group of a few hundred people inside Oracle. In the first hour of operation we went from 3 users (Jake, Rich, and I) to over 270 users. After 10hrs we were nearing 2,000 users and today we hit 10,000. Just over 1/7th of the entire company in under 3 business days. No marketing. No master plan. This was an experiment, remember. We were dumbstruck.
I don’t think any of us slept the first night. Our thoughts were racing and they continue to race to this day. Throughout it all, we were wondering if our little app was actually going to hold up. Amazingly, no major issues yet and we are going strong thanks to Rich’s fast hands and Jake diligently answering all those emails from users with shouts of encouragement, feature requests, and the occasional security question.
We’ll have much more information about this project and some lessons learned along the way in the future. For now, back to making social a reality at Oracle.