Not just Enterprise++

By Richard Hughes on July 21, 2010

There’s an old programming joke about what “C++” actually means in the C++ language. It means “increment C, but use the original value”. What makes this funny (well, as funny as a programming joke can be) is that this was exactly the way many people used C++ – just like C, ignoring most of the features C++ added.

The software industry has often been guilty of presenting old ideas with new names to try and generate excitement for them. So one of my continuing worries about the “Enterprise 2.0” movement (I hate all that putting-2.0-after everything) is that Enterprise 2.0 is actually Enterprise++ – same old intranets, same old collaboration, with a nice new shiny “social” label.

This has set me wondering, what is the difference between “1.0” collaboration software and “2.0” social software? Are they the same thing? We collaborated before social software; we communicated before social software. So what does social software add? If social software just helps us communicate and collaborate better than we did before that implies that it is simply a better mousetrap. No, there has to be more to it than that.

“It’s people-centric, not content/process-centric” is an explanation I often give. But hang on a moment… why isn’t e-mail classed as “social software”? E-mail is the ultimate people-centric, person-to-person (or person-to-people) communication tool. Yet e-mail is often characterized as the antithesis of social software.

I’ve read a lot of definitions of social software and one recurring theme is that social software “aggregates the actions of networked users”. What does that mean? I believe it means the difference between old-style collaboration software and social software is not who is involved in the collaboration; it’s the fact that everyone else can see that the collaboration is going on. It’s not just helping groups work together better, it’s also about giving the rest of the community visibility about what they’re doing.

This applies equally outside an organisation as in it. What makes Social CRM social? The fact that a customer’s issues are being addressed in a public forum where everyone else can see. And it also helps answer why e-mail is not social; if you’re not on the to or cc list of an e-mail message, you don’t know it exists.

So while it’s not a definition, perhaps that’s the difference between social software and collaboration. Social software is… never having to tell your the rest of the company what you’re working on, because they already know (or at least could easily find out).

And that genuinely is something new and different that previous generations of collaboration software lacks.