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Is Social Software a Substitute for Unified Communications?

July 08, 2011

Is social software a growing replacement for unified communications? Until recently, the question might have been interesting, but not too relevant. Now, with Google+ and Facebook offering video chat that looks and feels like videoconferencing, the question is a bit more germane. 

Social media is complementary to UC in the sense of providing context for voice and video calls by providing context. What social software adds is the ability to append “profile” or “contact” tags on documents or discussion threads.

And though the historic movement of technology has been from enterprise to mid-market to small business to consumer, that process now tends to work in the other direction, from consumer markets right into all business segments.

Consumer social networks have worked that way, and now tend to set expectations for enterprise social software. So an issue now is whether Google+ “Hangouts” or Skype’s integration of one-to-one video calls will lead to an expectation that social software will include the ability to launch a video or audio call. 

Of course, many suppliers of “communications-enabled business processes” have been making precisely that argument for years. 

“It's remarkable how little progress has been made in unified communications in the last 10 years,” said Matt Tucker, Jive Software CTO. “I think it's more likely that UC gets subsumed into social than the other way around.”Mike Rhodin, IBM SVP, thinks social software is adjacent to UC, but not a direct replacement. “Social is good for one-to-many communications where you don't know the other party,” Rhodin said. “In UC, you tend to know the other party.” 

There are other formulations. Some might consider IP telephony an enabler or subset of UC. Others might simply consider UC the latest set of features for enterprise telephony systems. Cisco positions UC as a subset of “collaboration,” which is in turn only another way of saying “visual communications.” 

That sort of positioning is typical in any industry when suppliers try to capture the marketing high ground for their products and solutions. But the fact that the formulations make some sense is evidence that the relationship between social software, unified communications and video and voice communications is “fuzzy” at the moment. 

And that, in turn, creates the space within which consumers and business users alike are going to experiment with new consumer social tools that might actually displace some of the functionality business products aim to offer. At the same time, growing habits of use create the foundation for “up-selling” business products to users who already have developed a reliance on the consumer versions of collaboration tools.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here.

Gary Kim is a contributing editor for unified communications. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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