Users dealing with social notification overload might get some relief from the latest version of NewsGator's Social Sites ESN (enterprise social networking) add-on for Microsoft SharePoint.
Social Sites 3.0, which will ship this week, features a redesigned user interface called Lookout that offers a variety of layout improvements and filtering tools to manage the flow of notifications in users' activity streams.
"The Lookout interface is designed to let users decide what's important to them, keep track of those things and not miss anything in their activity streams," said Brian Kellner, NewsGator's executive vice president of products. In addition, Social Sites 3.0 can be used with both SharePoint 2010 and the upcoming SharePoint 2013, which Microsoft is currently beta testing.
Among the Lookout improvements are multi-column views for segmenting notifications by category and the ability to re-arrange the layout by dragging and dropping elements. Social Sites also features a variety of filtering options to fine-tune the flow of notifications users see on their ESN interfaces, as well as automated recommendations that suggest content, groups, communities, and individuals they may be interested in subscribing to.
"As stream UIs become a standard part of collaboration tools, it's important that people be able filter the flood of information into consumable amounts, or they will miss valuable content," said Alan Lepofsky, a Constellation Research analyst, via email.
The more successful an ESN implementation is, the higher the likelihood that users will run into trouble trying to manage their activity streams, said Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis.
The problem will get compounded as companies open up participation on their ESNs to their customers and partners, increasing even more the number of participants posting content and generating alerts, he said.
"You're creating this stew of data that can put us right back where we were, or in an even worse position, when email was the primary mode of communication," Shimmin said. That's why it's important for ESN vendors to give users tools and features to manage their activity streams. "You are the master of your information domain and of your social graph, so you need to treat that as a garden -- grow it, protect it and keep the weeds out," he said.
Social Sites 3.0 also has a Metro-style user interface for Windows 8 that is designed for touchscreen devices like tablets.
Social Sites has been designed from the beginning to work specifically with SharePoint, augmenting the Microsoft product's ESN capabilities.
ESN software provides Facebook- and Twitter-like capabilities adapted for workplace use, like employee profiles, activity streams, microblogging, discussion forums, groups, communities, brainstorming tools, document sharing and rating, ranking and reviews of content.
With Microsoft's recent acquisition of NewsGator rival Yammer, there has been speculation about the future of Social Sites, since Microsoft plans to integrate Yammer with SharePoint and with other of its collaboration products and enterprise software.
NewsGator officials have said that Social Sites offers a much deeper integration with SharePoint, and that it appeals to a different kind of customer that prefers to have its software either on premise or on a dedicated cloud.
While Yammer is a multi-tenant, cloud-based software, Social Sites is designed for on-premise and dedicated hosted environments, offering IT more controls. NewsGator also said recently that it plans to integrate Social Sites with the Yammer software.
Social Sites 3.0 shows that NewsGator remains committed to the product and should help calm concerns among customers in the wake of Microsoft's Yammer acquisition, Shimmin said.
Social Sites customers include Accenture, Adidas, Kraft Foods, and General Mills. There are more than 4 million paid users of the product.
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