Glad you asked, or didn’t either way, you’re still reading.
It’s been a long time since I blogged about new features on Connect. I know not everyone can see the goodness (or care), since it’s internal only. But I figure some of you might be interested anyway.
When last I wrote about Connect features, we were launching our third version. A possibly unrelated trend since the beginning of the year has been a lot more traffic, e.g. in its seventh day, April 2009 has served more pageviews than all of May 2008.
Whatever the cause, Connect is getting more use, and we’re in the middle of our latest effort: redesigning groups. Since we launched groups in November 2007, they haven’t changed much on Mix or Connect. They’re pretty useful, but not wildly so. Without the social networking baked in, groups wouldn’t be a very solid, standalone product.
Groups were born during our crunch to launch Mix, and we purposefully kept the feature set small to make the date. They’ve been live on Connect for almost a year, and people have given lots of feedback on how to make them better.
The most common themes are: a) there’s too much stuff, in too many places and b) I can’t keep track of all the stuff because there are too many places to go.
So, our focus for the redesign has been to aggregate information and publish it in many forms for consumption.
I’ve always liked FriendFeed’s model for accepting any feed input and publishing it for commentary by a network. Even though feeds aren’t mainstream and may never be, lots of systems produce syndicated feeds, and the enterprise is no different.
So, we’ve applied the feed import model to groups.
Now, you can import feeds from your team’s wiki, your blogs (internal and external), the forums you follow, the tweet streams (OraTweet, Twitter, Identi.ca, whatever), your Google Alerts feeds, your Twitter search feeds, anything with a feed, directly into your group.
So now, you’ll have your direct posts (ideas, questions, posts) in the group plus any/all related information too. All in a single place. With comments. So you can discuss items within the team without sending email or bouncing around to five sites.
Beyond the obvious benefit of aggregation, there are some other specific use cases here.
First, you can securely speak your mind. Many employees are loathe to comment on blog posts on the ‘tubes because they’re not familiar with the policy. Instead, they send around links in email, which is less effective for a discussion. This problem is easily solved by adding the blog’s feed to your group for discussion.
Second, people who want to read feeds generated by systems inside the firewall must install and use a client because web-based readers like Google Reader can’t read them. We solve this problem too by essentially creating a feed reader, erm group. Plus, it’s a social feed reader, since you can establish membership around it.
Sweet, now I can aggregate my stuff, but do I still have to login to Connect every day?
Nope. We already provide feeds for each group’s latest content, but we’ve already established that people want other ways (ahem, email).
Soon after we deploy the aggregation features, which include general UI cleanup, we hope to link to OraTweet’s groups, which will allow posts into Connect groups to be tweeted. We’ll get Noel’s IM and email integration for free. So, you’ll be able to monitor group activity in IM and post directly to a group by IM and email.
There’s more. I’m a big fan of FriendFeed’s IM integration, and Rich is going to build something similar that will allow you to comment by IM.
Email is still coming soon, but we’re getting closer.
There was a technical limitation with the JRuby stack holding us back, but apparently, Mix figured out a way to get this done, although I’ve yet to receive a digest message . . .
Plus, we’re not giving up on feeds and plan to add a comments feed for each group. Now that each group imports feeds, and Connect syndicates activity in various ways, we could end up with some weird M.C. Escher scenarios.
With multiple feeds in and a single one out, Connect also works as a feed munger, a la Yahoo Pipes.
There are loads of possibilities, and I’m pretty psyched to see how people use these new features.
As before, Rich has posted his mockups (update: most recent mockups); these aren’t the latest, but you get the idea. We’re cranking out the aggregation piece first, and then, moving on to the consumption part.