Scroll down to see the Sept. 19 update to this article.
One blog I read is the Microsoft Knowledge Network Team Blog (registration required). It describes development and features of the "Knowledge Network" product that will accompany Microsoft's upcoming Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 which is also in Beta status.
Last Spring I began researching the topic of "expertise management" based on work being done by some prospective clients. I published a few blog entries on the topic of expertise management systems (e.g.,Bringing Knowledge, Relationships, and Experts Together in the Enterprise) and have been tracking several products ever since, including Knowledge Network.
The details that are emerging about Knowledge Network are fascinating. They reflect the potential for incorporating relationship management (e.g., the ability to answer the question "who knows person X in the company?") with personal profile generation and automatic extraction of expertise tags based on automated analysis of Outlook based email traffic.
Given the very broad set of functions supported by the combination of Knowledge Network and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (which will include, among other things, workflow, project management, and RSS feed generation) I'm quite excited to see these powerful toolsets coming to market. True, it's possible to complain about the exclusivity of the Microsoft platform (and Outlook is not my email client of choice) but that must be balanced with the extensive availability of these features in the world marketplace.
A big advantage the Microsoft platform will have -- assuming it will reach the market with the features that are being described -- is that the products and functions will work together. As with a much large ERP with its myriad interrelated functions built around a common data model, the Microsoft platform combines expertise extraction, building of personal profiles, content management, project management, feed generation, and a multiplicity of other functions. Add to that the ubiquity of Microsoft Office and an integrated development toolset, and you may have the ingredients for a massive adoption of social networking, relationship management, and collaboration techniques in organizations of all sizes.
I say "may" since it remains to be seen how welcoming large organizations will be to all these new features. There are very few "best practices" cases to point to for many of the still emerging social networking concepts we have grown accustomed to on the public web. Taking full advantage of the feature set of this new Microsoft offering will require significant work in changing behavior and business processes. But the potential is there and it is quite exciting.
There have been some interesting follow ups to the Knowledge Network (KN) announcements.
One is an informative video available on Microsoft's "Channel 9" service. Microsoft's John Hand and Glen Anderson are interviewed about Knowledge Network. Hand provides a demo of key features with an emphasis on the "social networking" aspects of the product. KN, which consists of both client and a server components, is described here as a "free download" that will be made available later this year to Sharepoint Server customers.
There have also been some interesting entries in Microsoft's Knowledge Network blog. One is a "guest entry" by an internal Microsoft beta tester of KN who reports some disappointment that more people were not included in the test which, he said, hampered some of the networking results. This is followed by an "official" response by a Knowledge Network team member (not named) who discusses some of the issues raised by the earlier commenter and in the process provides more information about the interaction between the Knowledge Network client and server components and the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (referred to as "MOSS") search functions.
Aside from my interest in how to implement and take advantage of products like Knowledge Network for enterprise expertise management, it is also very interesting to see the relative amount of openness by Microsoft about the development of this product. In years gone by details such as this might have come out in dribs and drabs from loose-lipped beta testers; here we have giant Microsoft officially sponsoring the posting of communications during the development and testing process (admittedly of a product that is intended to be "freely distributed" to SharePoint customers).
Very smart. In some ways this openness "levels the playing field" by using the same communication tools (e.g., blogs) available to much smaller vendors who don't have Microsoft's marketing resources. It would be nice, however if (a) contributors to the Knowledge Network blog were always named and (b) information on contacting team members was provided.