Social networking likely to grow in enterprises

Nokia event emphasizes consumer focus on social networking sites, but expansion to workplaces is expected

While social networking sites may primarily be the domain of students and recreational use, enterprises can be expected to climb aboard as well, dignitaries said at the Nokia Mobile Mashup 2007 event in California on Thursday.

Mobile Mash-Up emphasized mobile computing, social networking, and extending social networks to mobile devices. Although many of the estimated 200 persons in attendance acknowledged participating in the LinkedIn business networking site, only a small handful used the more recreationally oriented MySpace site. But as the "millennial generation" leaves school and enters the workforce, businesses will have to accommodate them by deploying the social networking capabilities they are used to, analyst Ben Bajarin, of Creative Strategies, said in an interview.

"What I think will be very interesting when this particular group enters the enterprise is their communication and collaboration desires change," Bajarin said. "The question is really, is that [a Microsoft] Exchange solution? Is that something that Microsoft can provide as part of the corporate enterprise? Or is that something that a company develops as a core use?"

"The idea of a social network and the power of it is when it's for a certain group of people at a similar stage, in this case like a company," Bajarin said. "It's a great example of how something like that may evolve and add value as communication and work habits change with this demographic."

A Nokia official concurred that social networks, mobile or otherwise, will spread to the enterprise. "It's coming, but it might take more time," said Rob Trice, a partner with Nokia Growth Partners, an investment management firm funded by Nokia.

Trice emphasized the mobile space for social networking.

"Just like wikis on the PC world, they started off as a consumer gadget that eventually morphed itself into an enterprise play. I think the same thing is probably going to happen on the mobile side," Trice said.

"The collaboration obviously can be extended into the mobile realm, which means greater efficiency, productivity," he said.

Nokia's event covered a multitude of mobile and social networking issues, including differences worldwide in how these spaces will play out. "I think that my belief is really that in the US at least, mobile social networks will be an extension of the online networks," said Michelle Law, principal at the Greylock Partners investment firm and a former engineer at Sun Microsystems.

"That's different overseas," where PC penetration is much lower, Law said.

Nokia's Tero Ojanpera, executive vice president and CTO at the company, emphasized the company's goal for proliferation of Internet-enabled devices. "By 2010, our target is to have 300 million fully Internet-capable devices," Ojanpera said.

The popular Web-based YouTube site is being extended to mobile products such as Apple iPhone and Nokia phones, said Tim Hyland, who deals with strategic partnerships and mobile computing at YouTube.

But YouTube's use by corporate enterprises could be limited to applications such as playing of training videos, Hyland said. Asked if he saw a use for YouTube within the enterprise, Hyland responded, "Apart from office entertainment, probably not too much."

Also highlighted Thursday was the Google OpenSocial API. This enables developers to create applications that can be run in any social networks, said Kevin Yen, head of strategic partnership management at YouTube. "I am very excited about OpenSocial," Yen said. OpenSocial gained a major ally Thursday when another social networking site, MySpace, announced it would participate in OpenSocial.

Also at the Nokia event, several newer companies pitched their wares, including: Limbo, offering mobile entertainment; MyKidIsSafe, which monitors mobile phone and Internet data to protect children; Vyro Games, offering a stress management solution, and Vello, a conference call service that calls participants instead of the reverse.

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