New details emerge about Oracle's Social Network

Oracle's take on enterprise social networking will arrive sometime next year

More specifics about Oracle's new Social Network software came to light on Thursday, following the product's debut at the OpenWorld conference earlier this month.

Oracle Social Network is part of the company's new Public Cloud lineup. It will serve as a high-profile competitor to the likes of rival Salesforce.com's Chatter as well as the array of speciality enterprise social-network vendors in the market.

OSN is "part of a much broader user engagement platform" powered by Oracle's WebCenter family of technologies, with the other pillars including Sites, Portals and Content, said Andy Kershaw, senior director of product management, during a webcast Thursday.

Companies are using collaboration tools today in a "very much siloed" manner, he said. For example, a conversation may begin in an instant-messaging program, but then one party to the discussion may later reply by e-mail and point someone to a document stored in yet another system.

"It's going to be tremendously difficult over time to understand how that decision was made or to share the decision-making process with others," he said.

OSN solves the problem by bringing together real-time communication, content sharing, integration with other business applications, activity streams and search tools, he said.

Overall, the goal is to deliver a social network "without a huge level of noise," Kershaw said. "The largest fear of any executive implementing any social network is that it's going to create a lot of non-productive noise."

OSN will be available sometime in calendar year 2012, Oracle said during the webcast. The cloud version will come first, with an on-premise edition arriving later.

The two options will be mostly similar but some differences will apply. "There are some features that make more sense on-premise," Kershaw said. "Tight integration with telephony makes more sense there than in the cloud."

OSN will first be made available with Oracle's new Fusion Applications, but can "absolutely" be used on its own, as well as integrated with other applications and processes, according to Oracle. One point of OSN is to "socialize" a company's other applications, Kershaw said.

However, it is compatible only with Oracle's database.

In addition, users will be able to adopt OSN without tossing out their favorite collaboration tools, according to Kershaw.

"Today Outlook is still the collaboration client of choice for many, many companies," he said. "We have a very sophisticated integration with Outlook that lets you work fully from within Oracle Social Network," he said.

Customers can also expect mobile applications for Android devices as well as Apple's iPad and iPhone, he said.

One observer offered a measured view of OSN's chances in the marketplace.

"Given that most likely buyers will be the existing customers, social needs to be ingrained at the process level to be successful," said Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research, via e-mail. "While Oracle claims that type of integration, the enablement to date seems superficial. On the positive side, Oracle customers will expect enterprise capabilities such as security, scalability, and integration."

OSN is just the latest time Oracle has taken aim at the collaboration market, coming after InterOffice, Oracle Collaboration Suite and Beehive.

Beehive received a particularly high-profile launch at Oracle's OpenWorld conference in 2008, but since then has seemed to gain little traction in the marketplace.

Some of the product's users recently speculated on its future in an official Oracle forum, questioning whether an expected version 2.1 would ever be released.

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment on that prospect.

While not "Beehive in the cloud," OSN does use some of Beehive's technology, Oracle confirmed during the webcast. But officials did not respond to a question posed about whether OSN would supersede Beehive.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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Chris Kanaracus

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