There has been lots of discussion in the blogosphere this week over the release of Tibbr, a new enterprise social network offering from Tibco. Many in the Enterprise 2.0 crowd are saying that Tibbr is the solution we have been waiting for and shows how social networks can be applied to the enterprise. While I agree in principle, most of these assessments of Tibbr have missed some key points.
For background, Tibbr provides a social network that also surfaces events coming from enterprise applications. Think Facebook, but instead of receiving messages from Farmville you see activities going on in enterprise applications. This is similar to Salesforce’s Chatter, where CRM-based events (e.g., a sale is closed or a customer requested a meeting) are surfaced in the social network’s activity stream. Tibbr extends this by surfacing events coming from multiple applications within an activity stream (not just CRM). Imagine a product development organization using a social network that includes events from their production release or warranty systems. A particular engineer’s activity stream might see events like "part xyz has been assigned a supplier" or "product abc has received an excessive number of complaints."
However, just focusing on the social networking aspect of Tibbr misses an important point. Tibbr has the opportunity to replace work already being done and not just be another well-intended collaborative environment that adds to already high workloads. If it hits its mark, Tibbr could be a product that sells itself to an enterprise worker (like an engineer) because they see it benefitting them personally, not just because they are told to collaborate.
For example, most product development engineers need to maintain an awareness of what is happening within their scope of responsibility. They may be tracking the status of several programs, while monitoring the release of products in various stages, and participating in a multitude of other activities in order to take action at the appropriate time. Life for the engineer (as with most knowledge workers) is a constant juggling act.
Unfortunately, most knowledge workers must use multiple applications to keep track of everything going on (to keep all of the balls in the air). These applications have been around a long time, have a narrow view of the world and, as a result, impose a significant amount of overhead on our engineer. Automated notifications (e.g. where an application sends e-mail when something significant happens) can be helpful but these easily get lost in the noise of a busy inbox. Surfacing application events within a social network could ease this overhead by putting them within the context of an environment an engineer uses everyday.
Tibbr won’t succeed because it is an easy-to-use social network (although, ease of use is critical and the social aspects of it will be valuable). It will succeed only if it takes work off the table for knowledge workers by bringing them the information they were going to have to retrieve anyway and it brings it to them in a familiar (Facebook) style.
Stowe Boyd is correct when he says "Social = Me First." From an enterprise perspective "me first" means giving me the information I need to do my job. One thing that separates enterprise from consumer social environments is that much of the information I need is locked in an application that was written twenty years ago.
In addition, architects should view Tibbr as a demonstration of what is necessary and possible within an enterprise social environment and not just focus on the Facebook-like interface it provides. Tibco’s application integration capabilities are part of the secret sauce behind Tibbr. Enablement of these types of environments require back-end application connectivity, which often needs some pretty heavy lifting to put in place. This is where an IT organization can make a huge difference. IT knows the data sources, manages the applications that generate it, and owns the architecture for distributing the data.
Lastly, these application connections should not just be available within a monolithic solution, like Tibbr. Rather, syndication of application events needs to come through standard protocols and formats (e.g., Activity Streams) to enable their reuse by the next breakthrough social software that the blogosphere falls in love with.