Cicero decreed "fame is the thirst of youth". Nowhere is this mantra more pronounced than in Hollywood’s superlebrity industry. It may come as a surprise but this same thirst is also the main force behind social network’s rapid rise to stardom.
In a similar fashion to the celebrity business, many of the leading social platforms have developed a following totaling hundred of millions of users (more than all the traditional commercial on-line services combined!). But contrary to the entertainment industry that only parades the rich and famous in static fashion, the social networks provide an effective array of tools to help users realize and enhance their on-line digital personas. Some of the current sampling includes effective mechanisms for self promotion (such as LinkedIn and Facebook) and platforms that foster collaborative efforts on an unprecedented scale (such as Wikipedia). To all but a few New-Luddites, these applications are ushering in the age of technological utopia.
But alas, every garden has its resident snake, and such is the grade A serpent found in Social Network’s Garden of Eden. What many of us don’t realize is that the same characteristics that make the social networks so attractive are also their greatest limitations. As the size and proliferation of these applications continue to increase, so will the pressures on traditional technology organizations to incorporate similar functionality into their line of business enterprise products. So where is the problem you say? Well, incorporating this technology into the old enterprise will most likely be done via acquisition of existing products (like the News Corp purchase of MySpace) which ultimately results in the conversion of free and cool applications to full fledged (and dull!) commercial advertising platforms. Either way it will have certain predictable side effects on the user population not dissimilar to mixing alcohol with sleeping pills. Flanders and Swann have captured the essence of this conflict in their famous song "Have Some Madeira, M’Dear":
She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice,
She was fair, she was sweet seventeen.
He was old, he was vile and no stranger to vice,
He was base, he was bad, he was mean.
He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat,
To view his collection of stamps.
And he said as he hastened to put out the cat,
The wine, his cigar and the lamps,
Have some Madeira, M’Dear!"
If you are wondering what this witty Edwardian ditty has to do with the subject of social networks vs. the enterprise, wonder no more.
Over the last decade we have become accustomed to the sweet tasting fruits of strict SLAs, strong security and customer service. Most users now instinctively expect a high degree of 24x7x365 enterprise software availability (which includes corporate email systems). Unfortunately, this is exactly what the social networks cannot deliver (recall Gmail outages). Very much like superlebrities, they look great but when it comes to actual long term commitment and performance they’ll break your heart.
A quick glance at the most common error messages found on any social network (1-6 below) reveals that availability and up-time are their Achilles heel. This in itself is a clear indication that these platforms are not enterprise ready. Their business models are based on casual and non-contractual usage and their applications should not be relied upon to provide any sort of SLA. The error messages we get from our favorite social networks may be adorable, but the causes for these messages are hardly cute and cuddly.
Any enterprise architect worth his weight in salt would immediately identify such error messages as show stoppers for the enterprise product. Big commercial software—suffering from no shortage of good software architects—is fully aware of such system limitations. The real paradox is that even though big soft and media companies would love to exploit the cool and trendy social networks (for commercial purposes of course), they can’t because for the last 20 years they have been preaching the message that any product that cannot be governed by a strict SLA has no place in an enterprise data center.
Such is the sting of irony.
© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.