One of the challenges facing business social networking tools is that they might not connect meaningfully with workers’ day-to-day activities. Socialtext is tackling part of that problem with a new service called Socialtext Connect, which adds social features to existing enterprise applications.
When I discussed Connect with chief executive Eugene Lee, he drew a distinction between Socialtext’s approach and the idea of adding social features to individual applications.
“We believe social is a layer,” Lee said. “It’s not a feature that gets bolted on.”
To avoid the problem of creating “social silos,” where there may be a lot of interaction and collaboration within a specific app, but each app is completely separate from the other, Socialtext connects enterprise apps with its own tools, primarily its microblogging service Socialtext Signals. So an enterprise resource planning system or customer relationship management app becomes a participant in the Signals conversation — in the form of an “app bot,” it can send out alerts and notifications, or even answer questions and enter new data.
To illustrate how this could be useful, Lee walked me through the example (also seen in the image above) of a solar panel company called Ryker. One of the customers asks via Twitter if a shipment is coming on time. Through Ryker’s Twitter bot, the message automatically becomes an alert in Signals, and then people on the sales or customer service team can try to resolve the situation from within Signals itself — they can ask the CRM bot for more information about the customer, and they can ask the inventory bot about the status of the product.
In this case, one of their vendors is running low on a necessary part, and getting that part from a different vendor requires a bigger payment than budgeted. So the team asks for approval to pay extra, gets the approval, and is able to ship the solar panels off on-schedule. Some of the details (“solar flux capacitors”?) are a bit silly, but the example illustrates how the system might work. Rather than being trapped within a specific app or team, important information can be seen by everyone right away, and workers can get the data they need to get their jobs done.
Messages from the apps don’t have to be pure text, either — they can incorporate extra data through the Twitter Annotations format. And they can be added to both on-premise applications and those hosted in the cloud. To a certain extent, Lee said, Connect is based on what some companies are already doing with Socialtext’s available application programming interfaces. But Connect makes those features more visible and easier for customers to add.
Socialtext is releasing Connect as a beta test, with pricing details still being finalized. The company is based in Palo Alto, Calif., and backed by Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Omidyar Network, and SAP Ventures.