Microsoft Plans Twitter-Like App For Business

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Microsoft is exploring the idea of microblogging with an application now called OfficeTalk

Microsoft is exploring how to build a microblogging application for enterprise use, according to a posting on the Microsoft Office Labs blog, and plans on expanding a concept test of the software to more users in the near future.

During this testing phase, the application has been given the name OfficeTalk.
 Office Labs is a group within Microsoft tasked with testing ideas for new productivity applications, and then applying the data from those tests to research and development. Unsupported prototypes for a handful of these ideas can be found on the Microsoft Office Labs Website.

OfficeTalk includes microblog messages and profiles

Microsoft's OfficeTalk demo

Microsoft already incorporates a number of social-networking features into its software, including the blog and wiki capabilities baked into SharePoint 2010. Some of those features originated as Office Labs projects. OfficeTalk, in concept, works very much like Twitter: users can read and respond to messages from other users they follow, post their own messages, and create and edit a profile.

“This concept test applies the base capabilities of microblogging to a business environment, enabling employees to post their thoughts, activities, and potentially valuable information to anyone who might be interested,” an Office Labs researcher with the handle “Ashok” wrote in the 17 March posting. “Like any good researcher, we have tested this concept on ourselves first and insights surfaced quickly.”

That internal test was conducted among 10,000 users, and involved hundreds of messages being posted daily. Among the insights gleaned from the testing: that testers actually leveraged a microblogging application focused on business productivity towards actual business ends, as opposed to using it for purely social reasons. The test also suggested that such a microblogging network would conceivably lead to increased business efficiencies, as people collaborate and share experiences in new ways.

Based on the results, Ashok added, “we’ll be taking the OfficeTalk concept test, along with other social networking experiments, to a few customers to learn how different businesses and people adopt and use these technologies.”

Ideally, “we will learn enough to not only better understand how to apply existing social networking technology at work, but also identify trends and gaps for the next generation of experiences.”

Those interested in participating in the next phase of the OfficeTalk concept test can apply via this link. 

Although the concept of microblogging is relatively new, and linked almost exclusively in the public’s mind to Twitter, it has already attracted a good deal of attention within the enterprise.

A number of software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, including Salesforce, now integrate Twitter feeds into their customers’ dashboards, as a way to monitor online conversations about products and services. In addition, Twitter itself is used as a platform by many companies for maintaining an online presence and responding quickly to public-relations incidents; in March 2009, Microsoft sponsored an enterprise-centric Twitter site, ExecTweets, designed to push messages from executives to the general public.

However, with Twitter’s increased popularity has come security concerns: on 10 March, Twitter announced it would begin scanning links from users in order to prevent phishing attacks and cut off the flow of malware through the network. In the face of those concerns, an enterprise might conceivably be more interested in creating an internal microblogging network that could be monitored more closely by IT security pros.

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