This morning at the Enterprise 2.0 conference we were treated to a series of semi-structured Social Software demos pitting IBM (Connections) against Microsoft (SharePoint), all moderated by Mike Gotta of the Burton Group.
Interestingly, both vendors pushed the portal angle: IBM bringing WebSphere Portal Server into play (partly as a container to mix in its quite separate collaboration tool, Quickr) and Microsoft showing off various 3rd-party Web Parts that can compensate for the dearth of native Social Networking services in Sharepoint.
IBM came off looking better for various reasons. They fielded a more focused demo team -- never to be underestimated -- but also because Connections has some slick, Ajax interfaces, and SharePoint does not. Ajax does not necessarily bring better usability, but done right, it can simplify complex interfaces.
And believe me: most Social Software tools ship with busy, power-user interfaces -- the sort of complex dashboards that have induced vertigo among enterprise portal users for years now. Social Software vendors seem to assume that all adopters are information addicts, wanting to scan multi-column pages packed with small-point text and hundreds of links to related, or popular, or recommended information. For some, surely that's true, but what about the mass of your colleagues? Asked one participant, "Are there documented best practices to implement [Lotus] Connections without overwhelming the community?"
IBM also previewed a selection of alphaware, including a social network analysis module and feed reader that will darken the marketplace "some time this year." SharePoint in contrast, came off as quite boring, and in the "back-channel" chat room a lonely, dogged Redmond representative got tortured by attendees. There's a palpable anti-Microsoft vibe among consultants here -- as you would suspect at any "cool" conference -- but I wonder if that's partly just resentment. Many of the enterprise attendees I spoke to are at least experimenting with SharePoint before going out into the marketplace to select another tool. Whatever its (many) demerits as a Social Software platform, SharePoint feels simple. IBM's Connections product made a good show for itself, but as we'll highlight in the Enterprise Social Software Report 2008, the attendant infrastructure requirements are not trivial.