What’s Next For Social Software Startups?

December 28 2011 02:45:00 PM Comments Disabled
MultiWhen I left IBM to work at Socialtext in 2008 one of the reasons was that "social software" was really heating up and the startup world seemed far ahead of software companies like IBM and Microsoft. By being more agile then the big vendors startups like Socialtext, Jive and Lithium could emulate the best of the consumer web and deliver similar features quickly to customers. The target market was typically SMBs or departments within a large organization who were looking for innovative ways to improve collaboration over the company mandated tools that were struggling with. Next when Facebook and Twitter became household names the startups evolved adding better community features, fancier profiles, dashboards for intranets and most noticeably microblogging & activity streams. Vendors like Yammer, Socialcast, Tibco, Moxie and ToughtFarmer emerged providing even more choices for customers and put increasing pressure on the original 2.0 vendors.

But where are we now? Unfortunately I saw very little innovation from startups in 2011 and instead saw a lot of movement from the software giants. As we come to the end of 2011, I have several questions/concerns about what comes next:
  • Does the innovation gap between startups and the big vendors (wrt social software) still even exist? Or, have IBM, Salesforce, Oracle, Cisco and even SAP caught up and perhaps passed the startups by? What about Google, will they make an enterprise splash in 2012? Will Microsoft ever figure out how to make SharePoint social?
  • With company wide deployments (vs. departmental projects) becoming the norm, do factors like scalability, security, integration, language support, compliance and accessibility fall more into the sweet spot of the big vendors than the startups?
  • As purchasing decisions move from the departmental level to CxOs in the boardroom, does this affect vendor selection?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to predict doom and gloom for startups, but I do think the time has come for a pivot in what they make. Startups, once the kings of social software need to be fearful that their reign over the lands could be fading as the giants awaken from their slumber.

Startups need to return to developing products that the large vendors are not in order to regain their competitive edge. Yes there are areas like gamification, location based services and analytics that some startups are still ahead on, but those things are soon going to become table stakes the way blogs, wikis and streams are today.

I'm hopeful that towards the end of 2012 I won't be writing about the same old collaboration topics and that something new will have emerged. I'm sure that several awesome new ideas are gestating within the brilliant startup world and I look forward to seeing them come to life.