Since we launched Connect alpha about three weeks ago, Rich has been adding new features in stealth mode leading up to our beta release, which should be finished sometime this week. We weren’t promoting the new features, just to see how people adopted them. This gave us a nice viral study, and it pointed out some usability tweaks.
We have 14,000 odd users today, more than 20% of the total corporate population, and despite having little more than social networking, we’re still seeing strong traffic, averaging around 10,000 visitors each day, about a tenth of those being unique visitors.
On Friday, I produced a bunch of screencasts (sorry, internal only) on the new features, and Rich added a New Features link as well as an Activity Log to show what people in the network are doing. Later this week, Paul will send his bi-monthly newsletter, probably with a focus on the Connect beta feature set. So, this week will be a good test of adoption with limited promotion.
Anshu had a nice post about Connect on Saturday, so I figured this would be a good time to talk about our beta features.
Keeping in mind that Connect is the product of a single developer, we’ve been able to accomplish quite a lot in just a short period of time. Connect alpha applied a social network to the employee directory, added some new search capabilities and debuted a new method for navigating the organization, the management bar.
As people logged in and created networks, the inevitable question arose, “What do I do now?” We began to get enhancement requests as people saw the value of a social network, which made us feel warm and fuzzy. So, we huddled in a conference room to make a short list of collaborative features to add into the beta version.
Many of these were already on our plan, but as more people asked for them, they rose in priority. Without further ado, here’s the list of what’s new in Connect beta:
- Enhanced security: Maybe it’s because we have new web in our veins, but we whiffed on this one. We had several “requests” to provide SSL at a minimum. My favorite comment came via a many times forwarded note calling Connect a funny looking UI, questioning what we were doing with usernames and passwords (FYI, we’re not harvesting them). The cool thing was that our internal security team was stoked about the project and is actively helping us. While we work with them, Rich has SSL’ed the entire Connect application.
- Management bar: This was a feature in our alpha, but Rich tweaked it a little. One goal we had for Connect was to find a new way to navigate the org structure, something beyond an up/down org chart navigation. So, we built the management bar, which shows the direct path each person has up to Larry. Hover over a manager’s name to see all that person’s directs. Each name is a link to that person’s profile, so this makes it easy to browse around the org. No more up/down the org ladder.
- Nearby browsing: This was also an alpha feature, but again, Rich is a perfectionist. Everything is indexed in Connect, so Rich could easily add neat features like nearby browsing. Everyone’s work address is a link in Connect, and clicking it builds a results list of others with the same location. He enabled this for titles, street address, floor, city, state, country, org and cost center. The beauty part of this is that we are a huge company, so much so that you might not know the people who sit on your floor if they’re not on your immediate team. So, next time you want to make some new friends, use nearby browsing. Oh yeah, the address has a Google Maps callout of course.
- More network features: In the beta, Rich added a couple network features to enhance the community feel of Connect, status and upload a picture. These are no-brainer social network features, but let’s remember one, uno, un, ein developer.
- About Me: About Me is a simply a profile page that’s indexed. Sounds pretty basic, but at Oracle, it’s not that easy to find people and figure out what they do. For instance, I belong to n-thousand mailing lists, and a very common spam blast goes like this: “Would the account manager for X company please contact me?” About Me aims to solve this problem. We had one person upload his entire resume into About Me, which is an awesome use.
- Search plugin: You should know I love plugins, so it’s no surprise that I wrote a plugin for Connect that can be installed via Autodiscovery. The cool thing is, another person also wrote a search plugin and promoted it through the IdeaFactory. I love it. Rich enabled search suggestions, so our Firefox users can get suggested results after typing a few characters into the search bar.
- Extended contact information: Everyone has contact points beyond what’s stored in HR, including cell phone numbers, home office numbers, IM contacts, etc. Connect allows people to enter these on their profile now, and Rich has enabled the IM clients for click-to-IM and for presence. Now, you can IM directly from Connect; just click the icon of choice (AIM, Y!M, ICQ, Jabber, Google Talk) and the appropriate chat window pops up, no fuss no mess.
- Kudos: Kudos are nice comments on a person’s profile. As Rich’s boilerplate says: “We don’t praise each other enough for the good work we do. Here’s your chance…” He’s totally right, and this feature let’s you give thanks in the moment for all to see, rather than waiting for appraisals or sending an email.
- Activity Log: This one’s the big beta bonanza. We all love the News Feed in Facebook, so we borrowed the concept for ourselves. The log allows you to see what everyone in your network has been up to, what contacts they’ve added, what ideas they added, what comments they’ve made on ideas, what people they’ve given kudos to, their updated status, changes to their About Me profile, changes to their extended contacts, picture changes, etc. Eventually, this will be a broadcast for org changes and group work as well, two other areas of need.
- OpenLab: Finally, we started a project to get Rich some help. In the spirit of Open Source, Rich opened the code for any and all interested hackers, and the movement is growing. OpenLab has 60-something interested people, and they’re just ramping up, getting the environment configured, learning Rails, etc. We’re hoping for great things from this project, which will allow people to tinker with something new in their free time. Java developer by day, Rails hacker by night.
That’s actually more content that I thought it would be. Sorry about no pictures or screencasts, but I’m sure you understand. Anyway, we’re stoked to get the beta released and let the Connect experiment marinate while we dive into some other sweet projects.
Stay tuned, same new web time, same new web channel.