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The Long-Term Future of Jive (Episode Two)

The Long-Term Future of Jive (Episode One)

 

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will focus on answering the question “what is the long-term future of Jive?”

 

The “long-term” part of that question is important and warrants a bit of further definition.

 

When I say long-term, what I mean is product decisions and work that are durable – that we could live with ten years from now and still be building upon.  Decisions that will provide a foundation for multi-year future innovation, some of which we can’t even foresee today.  What I won’t be talking about in these posts are some of the tactical features or issues (as interesting as they may be to many of you) that are the focus of our very near-term releases. Of course, we’re happy to engage on those topics separately.

 

Customers are rightly thirsting for transformative innovation.  The collaboration space in particular is rife with “new stuff” that can create a visceral sense that -- absent constant innovation -- your organization is somehow falling behind.

 

But we believe much of the “innovation” happening in collaboration is simply recycling of old ideas – the resurgence of chat as the hot new category is a primary example of this. In contrast, we have been looking for ways to create more profound impact … something that resets Jive on a true leadership path to drive differentiated value in ways that other enterprise collaboration solutions aren’t pursing.

 

An essential part of doing this involves rethinking what Jive is from the ground up.  The most important part of any construction project is the foundation and structural design.  Over the past year, we’ve been working intensively on designing and building this new foundation.  This work is not particularly visible to you, but it’s vital if we’re to reinvigorate this product and this company.  In effect, we’ve been rethinking – and rebuilding – the very core of Jive.

 

So, in the spirit of working out loud, I’ll share with you what we’ve been working on and, perhaps equally as important, why.  In all of this, I’m interested in your candid feedback.  Much of this we haven’t shared as yet, even with our Customer Advisory Board.

 

The Enterprise Social Network

 

As we began this work - roughly 100 days after acquisition - one of the first questions we needed a good answer to was why Jive had struggled – why its growth had stalled, and why its investors lost faith and decided to sell the company to us.  We began by tracing the steps backwards from the very beginning.

 

2008 can be considered the year enterprise social in its modern form was born.  This is the year that a group of startups – Jive, Yammer, Chatter, Mzinga, Dekks, and others – emerged with the aspiration of taking the Web 2.0 social revolution into the enterprise.  Ambitiously called “Enterprise 2.0” – the idea was to unlock the same kind of frictionless, freeform connection and interaction that public social networks had enabled, but within the enterprise ecosystem to improve worker productivity.

 

Ten years later, the reality simply didn’t live up to the initial vision and hype.  Almost all the players – after a period of flourish and growth – saw that growth seize up.  Some, like Jive and Yammer, were acquired.  Others shifted their focus to ancillary markets.  Some have had their position deprecated to near irrelevance as part of a broader suite.  None emerged to become the Facebook or LinkedIn of the enterprise.

 

This is curious.  In the consumer world – where the temporal judgements of fashion would seem to put much greater risk on a social network’s long-term viability – things have been remarkably stable.  The big players – Facebook and LinkedIn – have proven durable and have driven enormous societal change over nearly two decades.  Why hasn’t one of the enterprise players emerged to have the same broad impact and durability?  Why isn’t Jive as big as Facebook?

 

We have a theory.  And that theory is the basis of our future vision and fundamental redesign of the core of Jive.

 

The Fatal Flaw of Enterprise Social

 

Social networking really involved two concepts.  “Social” – the ability to communicate and share content, and “network” –the ability to establish, maintain, and manage relationships.  Both have been important to the success of Facebook and LinkedIn, but our observation is the latter – the concept of network – is far more important and foundational than the former.

 

Looking back at each of their erstwhile competitors – mySpace and Spoke respectively – both of those players de-emphasized networking in favor of content.  As a specific example, in mySpace, your friends were anonymous.  A compelling case can be made that the simple ability to see your “real” friends in Facebook was the killer feature that enabled it to win.Our observation is that all of the “enterprise social networks” focused on content over networks and people. In fact, the industry would shortly thereafter avoid the “enterprise social software” moniker and adopt much narrower definitions – like “interactive intranet,” Importantly, Jive itself doesn’t even have the notion of a people network built into its core data structures; it assumes the entire company is your network (or, perhaps more correctly, that there is no network). Everything is built around content.  This is the case with, to varying degrees, every enterprise social platform we've evaluated.

 

So what’s the problem? Clearly, many of you (and even a handful of other enterprise social software product customers) have used the software to create transformative change.  The focus on content and collaboration has enabled a level of transparency and knowledge sharing that wasn’t possible before.

 

But we believe that social networks that aren’t grounded in people (the most important asset of a company) are ultimately undermined by a core problem – what has been referred to in academic literature as “digital crowding.”  This is the moment when the signal-to-noise ratio starts to go sideways, and the massive amount of unbridled content becomes chaotic and overwhelms the utility of the system.  Newsfeeds become overrun with irrelevant content.  Search becomes impossible.  Inboxes are stuffed with alerts.  Groups proliferate to the point of meaninglessness.  This chaos results in a wealth of content, but a poverty of attention.

 

The reason some Jive customers have been very successful is because of exceptional community management.  Great community management can help mitigate some of the impacts of “digital crowding” – you can almost think of it like crowd control.  But it doesn’t fully eliminate the effects; only a technology grounded in people can do that.

 

People generally respond to digital crowding by finding a new “less crowded” neighborhood (in this context, a new tool), and the cycle again repeats until that network is also overwhelmed. The much publicized “Slacklash” impacting larger Slack communities is merely the latest manifestation of this problem.  All enterprise social software companies suffer from poor retention, and our contention is that it is this very phenomenon that drives a constant search for something new.

 

An Enterprise Community Centered on People

 

Both Facebook and LinkedIn are, at their core, people networks.  Facebook “friends” and LinkedIn “connections” are the basis for every other experience on those platforms.  That basis helps makes the social aspect of those platforms more manageable, reducing the fatigue associated with digital crowding.  Note, though, that that the rather simple relationship representations that Facebook and LinkedIn are capable of understanding (everyone is a “friend” or not, and everyone is a “connection” or not) pale in comparison to what is possible now using cutting edge technology.  I’ll have more on this in a future post.

 

Which takes us to the new Jive. Our plan is to build the future of Jive around a technology we are building called PeopleGraph – an incredibly rich data structure and engine that will enable Jive to understand your company’s people relationships at an unprecedented level of sophistication. Not just better than what enterprise social networks can do, but also far beyond that which either Facebook or LinkedIn are capable of understanding.

 

Jive will understand organizational relationships – how people are connected via your company’s org chart.  Jive will understand various types of personal and professional relationships that aren’t simple and hierarchical – and extend out to friends, team members, colleagues, or mentors/mentees, and Jive will understand the relative strength of those relationship - which are important and which are less so.  Jive will also understand latent relationships – commonalities between people in the organization based on more subtle skills or work activities that may not yet be expressed as a formal relationship.  If there is any basis of connection between people within a company, Jive will understand it, its fundamental nature, and its strength.

 

As you can probably imagine, enriched with this kind of intelligence, everything about the Jive you know today becomes instantly (and in many ways transformatively) better. Search is an obvious example. With a deep understanding of people relationships, locating people within the organization based on skills or work activities will be trivial.  And, because Jive understands you, what you work on, and who you work on it with, its ability to help you discover content informed by those connections will be completely new.  The search experience that PeopleGraph will unlock for Jive will, at the risk of modest hyperbole, blow traditional Google semantic search out of the water.

 

But even more exciting are the new kinds of capabilities this unlocks that simply weren’t possible with the content-centric data structures of the old Jive.  We’re going to be getting into some of these examples in future blog posts (and showing some demos at Aurea Experience 18), but I’m sure you can imagine some of them already.

 

A Bold New World

 

We’ve been hard at work building this new core for Jive for the last nine months or so.  It is based on cutting edge graph database technology from Amazon and makes optimal use of the AWS technology stack.  It is designed for massive scale and supports the kind of rich relationship representation – different types of relationships and different strengths of relationships – that no social software today is capable of understanding.  It is a massively powerful and differentiated asset, and we believe it will re-establish Jive as the leader in organizational collaboration.

 

I’m over 1,000 words, so this is probably a good place to pause my thoughts and start the conversation. I’m anxious to hear your reactions, ideas, advice, and concerns.

 

I’ll be posting subsequent blogs on this topic every 2-3 weeks.  I’m excited to share our thinking, and I appreciate you taking the time to work out loud with us.

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