The wide world of social intranets

Originally posted on the IABC Calgary blog (Tuesday, November 12, 2013)

courtesy technorati.com

courtesy technorati.com

People love to talk about what they know. We love to share our knowledge with friends, family, co-workers…heck, even complete strangers. And we love asking for help and learning from other people’s expertise and knowledge. Until recently, there were very few ways to share your knowledge inside an organization, other than through long-winded emails or face-to-face conversations.

Microsoft’s SharePoint (insert moans and groans here) was one of the first major collaboration tools developed for business. With its (fairly) easy-to-use check-in, check-out document management system, multiple people could work on a document and share revisions without the back and forth of multiple emails. But if you had a question about something specific related to your project, you had to hunt down the expert through the office directory, or by asking different colleagues until you found the right person who could give you the answer you needed.

Social intranets are becoming more and more popular, allowing employees to interact with each other in a more casual way, while sharing valuable knowledge and expertise easily. Several platforms are now available that don’t rely on SharePoint (although all the ones mentioned below can be integrated into SharePoint) and can provide the functionality you need to create highly effective teams and to increase your business potential.

Igloo
http://www.igloosoftware.com/
(Clients: Kimberly-Clark and RSA Security)

Igloo’s tagline is “Igloo is an intranet you’ll actually like.” After working with SharePoint for several years, I already like this company and want to buy their product (too bad my current employer doesn’t need a social intranet at this time). Additionally, as I was reading the current issue of Communication World, there was an ad for Igloo, offering 10 users for free on the platform (www.igloosoftware.com/iabc. Beyond 10 users is $12/month/user).

First off, the Igloo website runs on the platform itself, so you immediately get a good understanding of how they system looks and feels. Igloo is all located in the cloud, and according to their site “We fit with your existing workflow and software toolkit, whether it’s SharePoint or Office, Photoshop or Acrobat – and complement what you do with the social collaboration tools that you love, like wikis, blogs, and comments.”

Igloo has different collaboration spaces as well. From company-wide, team-based, discussions and a sharing centre, the platform looks clean and easy to use. Igloo can also run on any device and any browser, so it’s easy for employees to work on projects and contribute to the team where ever they are. There are a variety of apps you can add to your system, including blogs, forums, microblogs, and wikis, many of which employees already know how to use (think Twitter, Facebook or WordPress), so training should be fairly simple.

ThoughtFarmer
http://www.thoughtfarmer.com/
(Clients: Vancouver Airports and Mountain Equipment Co-Op)

ThoughtFarmer claims to be the world’s easiest intranet software. It boasts the same features as Igloo (document sharing, employee collaboration, source for company news, etc.), as well as personal homepages for each employee and access from a variety of mobile devices and platforms.

You can brand ThoughtFarmer to align with your organization’s brand through their skinning feature, and you can also customize the CSS if you want to get exactly on brand (and you know how to manipulate CSS). ThoughtFarmer can automatically translate content for you, so if you have offices around the world, all employees can participate in the social intranet.

ThoughtFarmer can be integrated with SharePoint, allowing you to search it, link to it and embed SharePoint document libraries within the ThoughtFarmer platform. And for you stats lovers out there (you know who you are), you can custom build a statistics module for your intranet that captures individual user behaviour (unlike Google Analytics).

If you want to use ThoughtFarmer on the cloud, fees start at $10/month/user.

Yammer
http://www.yammer.com
(Clients:  Shell and DHL)

Yammer is more social network and less intranet. Yammer’s focus in on creating open dialogue and less about document collaboration/sharing, although you are able to do that. Yammer is aimed at connecting the right people so you can get the job done, and their site states: “Yammer gives you a voice to share your knowledge and skills with others so you can make the most out of what you know.”

To me, Yammer is Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all mashed together, with some ability to collaborate on documents.

Yammer is deeply ingrained with Microsoft—it can integrate with Office 365 (great if your organization is on that platform) and it has a SharePoint app and Office Web apps.

Companies can start with Yammer for free right away, but the Enterprise module, with advanced support, security, administration and other tools starts at $3/month/user.

MangoApps
http://www.mangoapps.com
(Clients: United Way and Arizona State University)

MangoApps makes a pretty bold statement on their website:

“…MangoApps uniquely combines Social Networking, Team Collaboration Tools, and Intranet Pages into one breakthrough product. Communication, Collaboration, and File Sharing are forever changed.”

(I’m not going to talk about the unnecessary use of capital letters on words that don’t require them in that statement…)

MangoApps looks like a pick-and-choose platform where you can simply pick all the modules you want (e.g., calendar, microblogging, wikis and file sharing), so you should be able to get up and running fairly quickly.

MangoApps has a simple navigation and design, and employees can customize their own interface. It features a central news feed and the ability to connect employee profiles with their LinkedIn profiles. MangoApps offers an instant messaging module as well as the ability to create group chats and video conferencing from within the platform. (MangoApps is the first platform to mention a video conferencing feature). Users can also collaborate with people outside of your organization, in real time, such as vendors, partners and customers, by using private chats and groups.

Like the others, MangoApps can be integrated with SharePoint.  MangoApps also has the ability to be used in the cloud or behind the company firewall, and can be used across multiple devices and operating systems.

You can start using MangoApps for free with limited functionality and storage. More extensive options start at $5/month/user.

This is just a handful of the social intranet options that are out there. Individual organizations will need to analyze specific business needs to determine with platform is best for them. Don’t forget to do your research and listen to your employees, since they are the ones that will be using whatever you choose every day.

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