What I'm hearing from others about the Awareness Summer '08 Platform release

Today we officially announced our biggest news of the year:  a major upgrade the Awareness platform that includes a lot of new features, including SharePoint integration that was made possible through a strategic relationship with Microsoft ("strategic relationship" is the phrase Microsoft told us to use).   As part of the pre-launch activities I briefed a number of anlaysts (including Jeremiah Owyang, Rachel Happe, Kathleen Reidy, Laura Ramos, Matthew Lees, and others) and customers.  I heard a lot of comments like "wow," "cool," "I like that," etc.  Here are the items that they commented on the most:

  • Social Networking is hot.   There's a rising demand for social networking in communities to complement user-generated content.  We added a lot of new social networking features to make it easier for  people to connect with other people in an Awareness-powered community.  This is an area in which I expect to have a lot of customer interest.

  • Widgets and APIs are very important.  These allows customers to take the communities we build for them and create additional participation points outside of their community (e.g., display content on other HTML pages,  contribute content from iGoogle, etc.) and/or to create entire communities from scratch.  We call this "broadly connecting people and content."  When I explained that any of our widgets can be deployed with only two lines of code the people I talked to were pretty darned impressed.

  • SharePoint integration is a big deal.  More than one analyst told me that SharePoint is a "juggernaut" with unstoppable momentum.  Everyone agrees that SharePoint is almost used exclusively inside an enterprise and rarely, if ever, for customer-facing sites.  Our SharePoint integration now allows users to "live" in SharePoint and connect with customer-facing communities.  I was told this was unique and very cool.

  • Community management is critical.   How do you know if your community is successful?  What should you change about it to make it more appealing?  Now you can get answers to such questions by running new reports and graphs that generate metrics to tell you what's hot and what's not -- what users are most/least active, what content is most/least read, etc.  It's all part of the tools built into the platform for Community Adminstrators and Managers.  Many people commented that the interest in such functionality is rising dramatically.

  • The combination of Neighborhoods and Groups is unique and powerful.  They said it's important to have self-forming, user-generated organic "Groups" that allow the community to take its own shape, but it is also critical to have structured areas that are planned and created by Administrators.  Each concept by itself is valuable, but the combination is uniquely powerful.  This really turned on light bulbs for Andrew McAfee, who blogged about his excitement about Neighborhoods.  Now we've complemented Neighborhoods with user-formed Groups.  I really like how Rachel Happe of IDC summarized this:  Neighborhoods let admins build organization for what the community needs,  and Groups allows users to create organization that they want.  Very much like the relationship between "Categories" and "Tags."
All in all, I was thrilled with the response I got from everyone I briefed.  We are very excited about this major release, and we're already building customer communities on it.

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