The Social Dimension

"What’s most exciting, though, about Blizzard is that it takes the first step towards turning Pageflakes into a social network. For the first time, members will be able to establish a public profile and there will be a "People" tab added to the site. Members will be able to subscribe to other people’s Pagecasts. In other words, the will be able to subscribe to all the feeds and widgets that person is paying attention to."

This is what has been missing from portals, and in the absence of any sense of "we get it" from portal vendors I suspect that start page providers (a term I use to lump everyone from iGoogle to Netvibes to MyYahoo!, and even Facebook) will erode market share of portals through capturing attention of users.

How many people have a corporate portal but set their browser to their MyYahoo! page or their Netvibes page? A lot, and the trend only gains momentum as these vendors add more capabilities and more imagination to their services.

What happens when Netvibes turns on a groups functionality that notifies any user with a company domain name of the other Netvibes users who share the same domain name? The ability to network people together in a low friction manner is proving to be intoxicating for users, and out of that networking comes groups, events, bulletin boards, shared widgets, and viral distribution of not just information but also application functionality.

Yahoo! in particular could be a big beneficiary of this trend if they undertake two critical strategies, the first being to revive their enterprise group, which was abandoned in 2003. Arch enemy Google has done a good job of positioning enterprise search capability (appliance) on one end and Google apps on the other, the result being that enterprise users are increasingly using Google services and at some point tying up the various initiatives under a true enterprise service contract is a natural endpoint.

Yahoo! has more users on their personalized portal pages than any other vendor, plus the vertical portals (e.g. real estate) that offer them a natural tie in to vertical industries. The other missing element to Yahoo’s strategy is an explicit initiative to integrate Yahoo! Groups to domain specific users, which would give them something along the lines of SAP’s business process communities. Taking it a step further, enabling the user created group/networks aspect, like Facebook, would be the third leg of the stool for Yahoo!.

What’s the one conclusion I can offer as speculation or forecast here? Enterprise portal products are increasingly bleak in outlook, if for no other reason than the providers don’t seem to grasp the importance of a social dimension. The other interesting issue to consider is the potential for interoperability of social networks as a function of identity and reputation.

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