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Social Media’s Trojan Horse for the E… June 27, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, social networks.
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Don’t look now but social media and social networking tools have begun its assault on the enterprise! They have successfully penetrated company firewalls and have started to infiltrate corporate email systems without anyone noticing yet!

How have they accomplished this impressive task despite all of the security measures that anti-social media administrators have set in place? Well, very simply and quietly via plug-ins such as the clever Outlook email service called XOBNI which has been covered on here previously.

The latest version of Xobni (inbox spelled backwards by the way) includes a hook into LinkedIn which means whenever you are viewing an email in Outlook you can now see their LinkedIn profile and information! This includes their photo, title, current emplorer details and much more! It might not look or sound like a big deal but trust me, this is a game-changer folks!

This is a major breakthrough for the future of the enterprise and incorporating the best of social media into the workplace. It is the shot heard round the world wide web. Ok, maybe it’s more of a small ripple in the ocean which ultimately becomes a tidal wave down the stream!

The concept of sneaking social media into the enterprise has been covered on here before but that process was far more obvious than this new stealth method. Talk about sneaky! Xobni has established a blueprint for all other web 2.0 services that want to go to work with corporate America and world wide for that matter. They just need to figure out how to present their service in a similar subtle and useful manner. Sometimes a whisper is far more powerful than a shout.

For the record, Xobni isn’t the first service to attempt this invasion of the enterprise, but they have come up with the best and most useful service. Some others have managed to scale the walls of IT defense.  Here are a couple that come to mind that I used a great deal:

Breaking & Entering Innovators

Plaxo was actually the first service that I can recall that plugged into your Outlook client and connected you to your online account and all your contacts and friends. When they added their Pulse technology you then had your entire social network in your Outlook toolbar! Think FriendFeed for your email client. Here’s the Outlook plugin for Plaxo.

Outwit was another Outlook plugin that allowed you to read and post Twitter messages. It didn’t have all the bells and whistles of other Twitter clients such as Thwirl but it was and still is a very clever way to sneak in a web service that blended well with your existing business communication tool, in this case your email client.

How to Build Your Own Social Network in the Enterprise for Free February 1, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, social networks, Web 2.0.
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71 comments

Believer it or not, you can actually build a social network for your enterprise for free. Thanks to Microsoft’s free Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) and free SQL Server 2005 Express database, you can design and deploy an entirely new collaborative intranet or social network for your company that features many of the hottest web 2.0 features such as wiki’s, blogs, RSS feeds, calendar sharing, document sharing and more. Not only is it all free, but it can all be setup and ready in just a couple of hours. I know because I’ve done it.
WSS vs MOSS
There is confusion when it comes to Microsoft SharePoint. Most people automatically think of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 Server which is extremely expensive and not Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) which is free! Obviously, you get what you pay for when it comes to features and performance, but WSS is perfect for many companies, especially small to medium-sized organizations that cannot afford the expense that a fullscale SharePoint deployment costs. One of the reasons that makes SharePoint so expensive is its reliance on Microsoft SQL server, which isn’t cheap. The good news about the free WSS is that it uses the free Microsoft SQL Express 2005 database, which is robust enough for most environments.Here are the most important differences between WSS and MOSS.

  • Search across site collections – In WSS, each site collection is an island unto itself.  MOSS adds the portal umbrella that pulls together those separate site collections and allows for searching across them.
  • Personalization – MOSS allows users to have individual, personalized sites; WSS doesn’t.
  • User Profiles – MOSS allows you to import, store, and update personal data on your users, it’s not available in WSS
  • Audience Targeting – MOSS allows you to target content to specific user groups; WSS doesn’t.
  • Crawl and Index sources outside of SharePoint for searching- MOSS allows you to return search results for indexed sources such as file shares, web sites, Lotus Notes databases, and much more; WSS can only crawl and index WSS sites.
  • Search administration and customization – MOSS gives its admins much more control over the configuration of its search engine; WSS doesn’t.
  • Extra Site Templates – MOSS provides additional site templates (and workflows) for content management and portals
  • Business Intelligence – allows you to track key performance indicators and build BI dashboards into your team site. The dashboards can assemble and display business info using Excel spreadsheets, SQL, or integrate with line of business applications. Excel Services in MOSS go beyond simply displaying Excel spreadsheets, you can actually stream parts of a spreadsheet, showing or hiding various parts.

Note: The crawling, indexing and searching “weaknesses” of WSS can now be resolved by using Microsoft’s Search Server 2008 Express which is also free! Here is an exhaustive feature comparsion matrix for all SharePoint versions. Also, keep in mind that you can always upgrade from WSS to MOSS if/when the time (and BRINKS truck) comes!

Best Features for the Enterprise Intranet (Social Network)
It is amazing just how many features there are in the free SharePoint version (WSS 3.0 SP1). Most companies make SharePoint their intranet, thus becoming ground central for communication for all employees. Here are the most popular and useful features that you can use with your new SharePoint intranet.

Top Navigational System
There is usually a tab for the main home page and each department. This is merely an example, so the names of the departments and tabs will be different for each company. Here is what the typical navigational system for a SharePoint intranet looks like:

Quick Launch Components
Here are the most popular components used in SharePoint on the leftside of the browser and called the Quick Launch. Keep in mind that these components can all be used within each department’s portal! For example, you will find all of these elements on the intranet’s home page for all employees as well as in each department’s private area. Thus, H.R. can post public news and events on the main site for all employees to see and private information within their locked down area.

  • Announcements: Usually placed on the home page at the very top. Company news and announcements go front and center here.
  • Calendar: All company events and activities go into this public calendar. Holidays are usually added as well.
  • Contacts: All contact information is centralized in this public address book. It can include information on employees, vendors, partners, clients, etc.
  • Tasks: Action items and people assigned to them.
  • Projects: Basic tracking information for project tasks, including Gant charts
  • Wiki: Yes, you can launch wiki’s at will in the enterprise! They can be public wiki’s or private wiki’s for projects.
  • Blog: Yes, blogs are part of this free SharePoint as well. Companies use them for news updates or for project status updates.
  • Message Board: If you need a good old fashioned message forum then here it is.
  • Image Library: Control all authorized images, logo’s, etc.
  • Forms Library: Maintain all official forms and templates in the forms library.
  • Shared Documents: Ah, my favorite feature of them all. Companies can now have their own ECM (Enterprise Content Management) system for free!
    Create centralized depositories for all company documents and files and let SharePoint control versions and updates. Makes searching and finding documents much easier.
  • Surveys: Excellent way to take company polls on any subject matter.
  • Meeting Workspace: Powerful feature that assists with meetings. Documents decisions made, task assignments, agenda notes, and more.
  • RSS Feeds: Just about everything can have its own RSS feeds and email alerts!

Note: These are just some of the many features and components that are available for Windows SharePoint Services! See the links section below for more template examples available for free from the web!


Outlook Integration
WSS allows users to access just about any information thru their Microsoft Outlook 2007 client with seamless integration and synchronization.
Users can link SharePoint calendars, tasks, contacts and document libraries. Watch the videos below to see just how easy it is to do.

SharePoint Links
Here are some useful links that will provide information and tools that will make your new SharePoint intranet more stable and powerful.
Official WSS Homepage
WSS Overview
Download WSS 3.0 with SP1
Download All Free Templates
Template Previews
Installation
SharePoint TechCenter

SharePoint Videos
Windows SharePoint Services Overview:
Here’s how to setup a SharePoint Wiki.
Here is a video that demonstrates how easy it is to link a SharePoint calendar with the Outlook calendar.
Here is how to link Outlook 2007 with SharePoint Document Libraries.

Final Thoughts
Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) is powerful set of tools for the enterprise at any cost. The fact that WSS is free and easy to install makes it a no-brainer when it comes to deploying a versatile intranet or social network in the enterprise. If nothing else, WSS can help lead the way to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 solution which has even more enterprise class features with greater levels of load balancing, availability and complexity. In the mean time, deploy your own Enterprise 2.0 today!

Free Search Engine for Your Enterprise January 31, 2008

Posted by Doriano "Paisano" Carta in Enterprise, Microsoft.
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5 comments
Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express is a free (for now) search solution for the enterprise. It’s easy to install and can be up and running within minutes. It looks and feels like search engines we use every day. Includes subscription service that sends update notifications of your search results via e-mail and RSS alerts. Watch this brief video to see how it works.

What can You Search?

Network File Shares
Local Intranet
Corporate Website
Microsoft Exchange Public Folders
Federated Search Connectors

What are Federated Search Connectors? (See video)

Federated Search Connectors allow your Microsoft enterprise search solution to pass search queries to a target system and accept and display results returned from that system.

They are based on the Open Search standard, making it easy to configure federated searches for a wide variety of existing information services. The configuration data for a Federated Search Connector can be packaged and reused as a Federated Location Definition (.FLD) file.

Here are just some sample connectors you will be able to search within your enterprise:
News: Live.com News, Yahoo News, Google News, Wired, The Register
Information Resources: MSDN, TechNet, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, Yahoo
Media: Flickr, Yahoo Images, YouTube, PodScope
Blogs: Technorati, Google Blog Search

Technical Resources
Here’s a
6 minute video that demonstrates what the user will see.
Here’s the Installation & Configration video.

Comparison of Microsoft Search Solutions
The chart of features will show the differences in features for Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express, Search Server 2008 and their flagship SharePoint Server 2007. The free express version does everything that the commercial Search Server solution does except for High Availability and Load Balancing.


Pricing
Microsoft Search Server 2008 Release Candidate is free. The RTM (Release to Manafacturing) version will also be free. Will it always remain free? Don’t count on it, bub! However, by then everyone in your organization will be so hooked on it that there shouldn’t be any problems getting the purchase order approved by the powers that be.

Free Download and System Requirements:

  • Processor: 2.5 gigahertz (GHz) (minimum)
  • Memory: 2 gigabytes (GB) RAM (minimum)
  • Operating System: Any of the following editions of the Windows Server 2003 or newer operating system with the most recent service packs: Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, Datacenter Edition, and Web Edition.
  • Hard disk: NTFS-formatted partition with 3 GB of free space (minimum)
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0 with ASP.NET 2.0 enabled
  • Windows SharePoint Services 3.0
  • Microsoft Windows Workflow Foundation Runtime Components 
     
    Note: Search Server 2008 Express can be installed on one computer only. It supports an unlimited number of Web front-end servers, but only one application server.

Final Thoughts:
No matter how you feel about Microsoft or their operating systems, their Search Server 2008 Express is worth a look if your organization needs a way to index and search volumes of documents and other bits of information. Besides, the price is right!

By the way, Microsoft’s Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0 is also free and commonly called SharePoint-lite.
Here is how SharePoint can help you build your own social network for the enterprise for free!