Social Intranet Platforms

by Toby Ward - The bulk of intranets continue to be powered by off-the-shelf content management systems (CMSs) and portal solutions, but social intranet platforms are rapidly becoming a suitable and powerful alternative to bigger, more established software vendors.

It’s no surprise that the big, traditional technology behemoths of Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle dominate the intranet vendor landscape. In fact, in recent years, the big three have gobbled-up or pushed-out smaller contenders (e.g. IBM buys Filenet; Oracle buys nearly everyone else) or have forced many others to merge (e.g. OpenText buys Vignette; Autonomy buys Interwoven) or shut them out of the business all together.

Social media is all the rage, and most organizations now use social software in some form on their intranet (present on 87% of organization intranets, according to the findings of the Intranet 2.0 Global Study). As the study reveals, most organizations that have social media tools, have not yet deployed them enterprise wide (making intranet 2.0 available to all employees), a key ingredient for a social intranet;  fewer than 10% of organizations have a truly social intranet that incorporates social media at most levels and encourages the use of these tools by all employees.

Social software contenders are challenging the big three’s dominance of the intranet technology platform market with solutions that are not traditional portal or CMS solutions, but are social media platforms. No longer are wikis and blogs relegated to some far flung corner of the intranet, now they are the intranet.

Gartner’s “Magic Quadrant” for social software vendors also reveals the dominance of the big guys, namely Microsoft and IBM. While Gartner’s analysis isn’t a pure look at strictly social solutions, Microsoft and OpenText don’t have pure social solutions, it does highlight some (but not all) of the emerging pure plays.

Gartner's Magic Quadrant

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Social Software vendors, 2010

Here’s a quick look at five key social intranet platform vendors to watch in 2011.


ThoughtFarmer is one of the more established social intranet vendors. It has evolved from a wiki platform into a more encompassed social intranet offering. Based on the wiki, ThoughtFarmer “combines traditional intranet features — things like news, structured content, search and an employee directory — with social software features, like blogs, feeds, wikis and social networks.”

While ThoughtFarmer is one of the smaller, privately-owned competitors, it is well-established and has a solid customer base.


Key features:

  • Blogs

  • Wikis

  • Calendars

  • Discussion forums

  • People directory / profiles

  • Groups

  • Feeds

  • Web content management

  • Document management


MindTouch made Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for 2009, but was dropped for 2010. With an impressive client list that includes Microsoft, Harvard, NASA, and many others, MindTouch claims a user base in the millions and is an open source vendor. While it resembles an enterprise content management solution with integrated social features MindTouch is based on the open source solution MediaWiki that powers Wikipedia and is also a popular “user community” solution for advanced discussion forums.

MindTouch Core (also called TCS, though their marketing is inconsistent and confusing) is the free open-source solution that anyone can download; MindTouch Platform is the commercial version that is robust, but not inexpensive. Although MindTouch announced “MindTouch Social Intranet” a few months ago this solution is conspicuously absent from its product list on its website and is merely an implemented version of MindTouch Platform by one of its implementation partners.


Key features:

  • Wikis

  • Web content management

  • Enterprise dashboards

  • Search

  • Community scoring (rating)

  • Social user profiles

IGLOO Software

IGLOO is a cloud-based employee networking solution that offers a monthly hosted solution that spreads out the cost of ownership over time, versus the more expensive up-front investment required for some of the alternatives offered by ThoughtFarmer or MindTouch.

IGLOO takes the “online community” approach that “comes complete with an integrated suite of content management, collaboration and knowledge sharing tools, within one secure social business platform.”

IGLOO software is still a small, growing company, but a very rich and inexpensive solution to the alternatives.


Key features:

  • Social networking

  • Content management

  • Document storage

  • Blogs

  • Forums

  • Instant messaging

  • Commenting, sharing ,tagging , rating, polling


Like MindTouch, PBworks was also conspicuously dropped from the Gartner Magic Quadrant in 2010. And also like MindTouch, PBworks is a wiki-based solution that has evolved into a social workforce offering with an emphasis on content management to “create documents, manage projects, and share files as a seamless team.”

PBworks claims to be “the world's largest provider of hosted collaboration solutions for business and education” and hosts over one million team workspaces serving “millions of users per month, and 96% of PBworks business users would recommend PBworks to a friend.” There isn’t a company on the planet that wouldn’t want a client recommendation rate of 96%.


Key features:

  • Wikis

  • Shared online workspaces

  • Document management

  • Project management

  • Network dashboard

  • Conference calling (initiate a conference phone call with your connections)


Jive is perhaps the biggest independent leader in the social software space. In fact, Jive’s website boldly claims it to be “the largest and fastest growing independent Social Business Software company in the world. Our next-generation software is the only truly enterprise-scale social business solution on the market.”

Jive's flagship product is the Jive Engage Platform (formerly Clearspace), which combines collaboration software, community software, and social applications including social networking, microblogging, and instant messaging. It is particularly famous for working hand-in-hand with Microsoft and making SharePoint truly social (completely absent in MOSS 2007).


Key features:

  • Discussion forums

  • Collaborative documents

  • Document management

  • Blogs

  • Polls

  • Videos

  • Microblogging

  • Community voting and commenting

  • Synchronizing with MS Office and SharePoint

The Competition

Truth be told, there are hundreds of vendors in the social software space, possibly thousands by the time you read this. However, there are only a few dozen vendors that should be considered capable of powering the corporate intranet; only a handful that we would consider worthy of being a true enterprise social intranet platform. Yet there’s not enough space to review them all. And still, content management system and portal providers are still the logical choice for most organizations.

What is the best technology platform for your organization? Careful planning and due diligence is required before purchasing any technology, especially an intranet platform.

View the video to the January 11th webinar video Choosing an Intranet Technology Platform.

View the slides on SlideShare

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