Posts categorized "Facebook"

Telcos Should Be Worried - Facebook Controls More OTT Messaging With WhatsApp Acquisition

WhatsappTalk about disruption... the telecom part of the media world is buzzing with news of Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp. Techmeme is currently showing MANY posts on the topic and the day is just getting started.

The key point here is that WhatsApp is a prime example of what is often called an "Over-The-Top" or "OTT" application. It uses the data channel on a mobile phone to provide services. Here's another key point from the Facebook news release:

  • Messaging volume approaching the entire global telecom SMS volume.

The traditional telecom companies ("telcos") have already seen their voice revenue seriously eroded by Skype and so many of the other OTT voice applications (such as Viber, which was just acquired) and they've been watching SMS traffic and revenue plateau and decline.

WhatsApp was already one of the major players in the mobile messaging space... indeed I have friends in Europe who tell me they can't remember the last time they sent an actual SMS message because they use WhatsApp for all their messaging. Their usage, too, is not just about the "free" cost of WhatsApp messages - it's also about the richer messaging experience they can get over WhatsApp versus plain SMS. They can send photos, display an online status, engage in group chats and much more that was just either difficult or expensive to do with SMS. And... they can send messages to anyone using the app regardless of where they are in the world. They don't have to worry about fees to send SMS messages internationally.

The user experience is so very simple and easy.

Plus, WhatsApp (and other OTT messaging apps) solves the directory issue by just using your mobile phone number as the identifier within their system. With a quick approval of access to your contact list you can immediately start sending messages to any other WhatsApp users. You don't have to try to get anyone's number... it's all stored in the big giant (and constantly growing) WhatsApp user directory.

And now... instead of WhatsApp being a venture-backed startup out there building its service, it is now backed by Facebook, at this point one of the more powerful corporate entities on the global stage today.

Note, too, that Facebook has also been an OTT messaging player for some time with their "Facebook Messenger" application, which even introduced voice calling at one point in the US. In a post today, Mark Zuckerberg writes about how the two apps will co-exist for different communities of friends/contacts (see also the WhatsApp blog post). Zuckerberg also writes of how WhatsApp is, in his mind, on its way to connecting a billion people.

And that is really what should concern the telcos - one of the largest OTT messaging apps is now owned by the largest global social network.

A Larger Danger

There is, though, a broader concern, not just for the telcos but for all of us. All of these OTT messaging apps... whether they are WhatsApp, Line, Facebook Messenger, Apple's iMessage, Google+ Hangouts, Skype ... or any other... are creating SILOS of users.

They are proprietary "walled gardens" of messaging.

You can ONLY send messages to people who have the app installed on their mobile device.

Say what you will about SMS, but the reality is that you can send a message to pretty much anyone with a mobile phone, anywhere on the planet. No apps to download... it's just a "feature" of having a mobile phone.

WhatsApp requires the app. And specifically the app from Whatsapp and not anyone else's application. WhatsApp does NOT have an open API that anyone can use. In fact, WhatsApp's legal counsel was recently sending DMCA takedown notices to crack down on projects interacting with Whatsapp (presumably in the run-up to this acquisition). WhatsApp - and now Facebook - are in total control of the user experience and interaction for mobile messaging on the service.

Is this REALLY what we want for the future of mobile messaging?

Way back in 2007, I wrote about how "e-mail" was returning into walled gardens and while today's players are different than the diagram I had then, the situation is similar.

This is not the open Internet.

And that should concern us all.


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Facebook Rolls Out Free Voice Calls In The US On iOS - A Quick Walkthrough And A Big, Huge Caveat

Facebook voice 1Facebook today rolled out it's free voice calling in the US via its Messenger app for iOS (iPhone/iPad). The Verge was the first I saw with the news and a great number of sites are now following.

Voice calling through Facebook has the potential to be hugely disruptive... rather than calling on your phone over your regular phone connection - or even rather than using Skype, you can just call from directly within Facebook. This is the kind of "Over-The-Top (OTT)" app that gives telco operators a fit... goodbye, telco voice minutes!

Plus, it's using some HD voice codec so the sound quality is outstanding.

And since the folks at Facebook want you to live your life inside of their very pretty walls, this just provides yet one more reason for you to stay within those walls.

BUT... there's a big huge caveat that I'll get to in a moment.
 

A Quick Walkthrough

First, though, let's look at how it works. When you go into the Messenger app and open a chat with a friend (in this case, Jim Courtney), all you have to do is click the "i" button in the upper right:

Facebook voice 2

After you do that you will get a window that I showed at the beginning of an article where you have a "Free Call" button.

Facebook voice 10

When you press that, you begin a call experience very similar to any other call on your iPhone. First you are connecting to the other person and then you are in the actual call:

Facebook voice 3 Facebook voice4

There is apparently the standard accept and decline buttons. (I neglected to have Jim call me back to get a screenshot.) While you are in the call you have a button to hang up, a speakerphone button and a microphone mute button. The last button is very nice in that it lets you remain in the call while using other features of your iPhone. In these two screenshots you can see that I could access our Messenger chat and also go back to my main iPhone screen to launch other applications. I can always tap the bar at the top to return to Messenger and the controls to our voice conversation:

Facebook voice 5 Facebook voice 6

The voice quality during the conversation was outstanding. It was crystal clear and rich enough that we knew it was some kind of HD voice codec being used.

All in all it was an excellent experience.

The Big, Huge Caveat

So what's the problem? Well... the reality is that right now trying to find someone to call is a struggle!

Going down through my contacts in the Messenger app was an exercise in futility. Person after person after person had the "Free Call" button greyed out:

Facebook voice 9

Here's the fundamental problem:

You must be running the MESSENGER app on your iPhone!

It doesn't matter if you are running the Facebook application on your iPhone... you must be running Messenger.

And bizarrely there is no linkage between the two applications. If I am over in the Facebook application and go into a chat with Jim Courtney, notice that I have only the ability to "View Timeline":

Facebook voice 11

And of course you must have an iPhone or iPad. If you have an Android device or some other device you are out of luck right now.

So the only people you can use this with are other people running Messenger on iOS.

Presumably Facebook is assuming people will just keep Messenger running... but I know that I, for one, try to limit the number of apps I keep running on my iPhone for battery life reasons.

More fundamentally, I never have used the Messenger app for chatting with other friends in Facebook. The Facebook app already provides the ability to chat... so why would I use the Messenger app? (And I know Facebook focuses on the speed that you can get to sending messages... but that's not critical for me.)

Potential For Disruption?

Now if Facebook gets their act together and makes this more intuitive and ubiquitous, the potential is there for more serious disruption. If it can be integrated into the main Facebook app... and can work for Android as well as iOS... and can work for people outside the US and Canada... THEN we might see more people shifting voice calls over into Facebook's voice service.

The potential is certainly huge, given Facebook's massive size.

Until then... it's an interesting option to have available... but I just don't see many people using it.

What About The Technology Behind It?

My other natural question was to wonder what they are using for the technology behind their voice service. As The Verge pointed out, Facebook and Skype have had a partnership to deliver video calling within Facebook's website. Could this be another component of that partnership? Is it a partnership with another VoIP provider? Is it something homegrown?

For now, I haven't seen any details that help explain that, but I'll certainly be watching to see what we can learn.

UPDATE: A tweet from Aswath Rao pointed me to a TechCrunch article from earlier this month when Facebook rolled out free voice calling in Canada that indicates that the technology is NOT from Skype. Separately I asked a Skype representative if Skype was involved in today's rollout and received the simple answer of "no".


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Facebook Rolls Out VoIP In Canada on iOS!

FacebookToday, Facebook apparently began testing of true voice-over-IP (VoIP) calling from its iOS app for all Facebook users in Canada. If you have an iPhone and are in Canada, you can update to the latest version of the Facebook Messenger app and start making free phone calls to your friends on Facebook. Two articles have more details:

I was alerted to this by (appropriately) a Facebook post from Tris Hussey, author of the iPhone Hacks article.

Since I'm not in Canada, I can't test it myself... an update to the Messenger app for me will only get me the ability to leave "voice notes". But I'm looking forward to learning more from my friends in Canada.

If this rolls out to users outside of Canada, this has the potential to be huge and a major disruption to telecom. Yes, there is Skype on mobile phones, and a dozen other apps like Viber and Voxer, but...

... Facebook has the directory and the eyeballs!

You have your friend connections already in Facebook. Plus, people are already spending a significant amount of time in the Facebook app. This just makes it simple to move into real-time communications with someone.

I'm looking forward to learning more from friends up north... and to hopefully trying it out at some point!

UPDATE: Here's the iOS update message for Facebook Messenger:

Facebook v2 1 iphone

So the way I read that, we should all be getting this capability in the next few weeks.


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Skype Opens Its Walls A Bit? Lets You IM Facebook Users Just Like Skype Users

skypelogo-shadow.pngDid Skype just add a XMPP gateway into their network and bring their walls down a bit more? Today's release of Skype 5.5 for Windows had one VERY cool piece of news:
Facebook integration
Now when you connect to Facebook you can see when your Facebook friends are online and IM with them directly from Skype.

Now I don't have Windows to test it out (as you would know from my earlier post), but in working with fellow blogger Jim Courtney who uses Skype on both operating systems, this has some interesting aspects to it.

For starters, in Skype 5.5, the chat with the Facebook user appears in your left-side list of chats just like a chat with a Skype user. You have the same user experience chatting with a FB user as with a Skype user. (Subject to the caveat that Jim found he couldn't edit a message sent to a FB user, but that makes sense given that the message would leave Skype's network to go over to Facebook's network.)

When Jim went into his Facebook contacts he found my name (he and I are friends on FB) that I was currently "offline":

Skype55fb1

He noted that he could call me via a regular phone number... but not through Skype, even though we are connected on Skype. (So a bit of future integration work that could be done.)

Once I opened a browser and logged into Facebook, I showed up to Jim as online:

Skype55fb2

Jim initiated a chat... and to me it seemed to be just like a regular Facebook chat:

Facebook skype55

On Jim's side, it looked like just a regular Skype chat.

This is VERY cool!

Why? Because this is really the first direct integration I am aware of between Skype and any other IM service. Sure, there are any number of services that people have connected to Skype to bridge Skype messages out to XMPP/Jabber or other networks... but they aren't directly supported by Skype and in my experience some of them haven't worked too well.

Now, I don't know how Skype actually accomplished the Facebook chat integration. I do know that Facebook supports XMPP (Jabber) for connections to external services for chat, so this would be one very obvious way for Skype to make the connection to Facebook. They might have done the integration at a deeper level. I don't know.

But if Skype did add an XMPP gateway to the edge of their network... that's great news... and perhaps may bode well for future integration with other IM services.

Skype 5.5 for Windows has a bunch of other updates, including those emoticons I ranted about, and if you are a Windows user I would suggest you look at upgrading.

Meanwhile, even if it is only on one platform, kudos to the folks at Skype for lowering the walls a bit and connecting out to the other IM networks!


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Is Facebook Planning an Official Voice Calling Feature? With Skype? And Would Facebook Users Care?

News today out of ReadWriteWeb and The Daily What is that a "Call" button was spotted briefly inside someone's Facebook profile:

facebookcall.jpg

RWW goes on to speculate about whether or not this could be part of the "deep integration" between Facebook and Skype announced last September. Mike Melanson at RWW wrote this:

The move would make a lot of sense for Facebook, which has worked recently to become the center of your online communication experience. Its recent "not email" announcement debuted a form of communication that would supposedly work seamlessly between devices, so that there would be little differentiation between messaging, email and Facebook chat. Voice calling between users, whether from browser to browser, phone to browser, or browser to phone, would just make sense in creating a more seamless communication experience.

Now, there is the obvious question -

is the screenshot real?
Or are we being hoaxed? Having personally been in a situation where I received an inadvertant preview of possible new Facebook features (which sadly have yet to materialize), I'm inclined to believe that the screenshoot could be real.

The Skype Connection?

But is it connected to Skype, as RWW wonders? The "deep integration" reported by RWW in September did turn into reality in October with the release of Skype 5.0 for Windows and the integrated Facebook panel. That release allowed you to:

  • see your Facebook News Feed in Skype
  • post status updates that can be synced with your Skype mood message
  • comment and like friends’ updates and wall posts
  • call and SMS your Facebook friends on their mobile phones and landlines
  • make a free Skype-to-Skype call if your Facebook friend is also a Skype contact

This brought Facebook into Skype... so why not a reciprocal exchange of bringing Skype into Facebook?

As Google continues to amass voice resources through acquisitions, there's also a certain sense to it in the battle among the giants.

But Will Facebook Users Actually USE Voice Calling?

The larger question to me is whether or not Facebook users would actually use a voice calling capability. One commenter on The Daily What story voiced an feeling I've often heard expressed:

fbandvoice.jpg

And indeed there are many phone/voice call applications already in existence for Facebook, some of which have been around for years. Back in October I reviewed one such app, the aptly named "Facebook Telephone" (in full disclosure, created by colleagues at Voxeo Labs as a demonstration of what could be done with the Phono SDK) and way back in April 2008 I reviewed an earlier Facebook application (also using Voxeo's platform). While applications like those have certainly seen some success, it hasn't been overwhelming... and begs the question of whether people inside the walls of Facebook truly want to interact via voice.

The Key Difference

The big difference from those applications and the "Call" feature we're all speculating about right now is exactly that...

all of the previous voice services are separate applications!

In order to use the app to communication with someone else inside of Facebook, both parties have to have the application installed.

There's the first barrier... and it's a huge one. It creates friction and no matter how easy the app creator makes it to install the app, it is still one more step that the recipient has to make in order to start communicating.

Now... imagine if Facebook just made voice calling part of the fabric of Facebook? What if everyone just got this "Call" button and were able to start making calls from their computer? Without any further installations of apps?

What if Facebook extended that to their mobile versions so that you could make calls directly from inside the app to anyone else? (You already can in the iPhone app... but only if your friend has entered a mobile phone number in their profile.)

Would this make Facebook more of a communications portal for you?

Stay tuned... the global war for your eyeballs... and your voice... is only going to get more crazy in the time ahead!


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Use "Facebook Telephone" to call FB friends - or anyone else!

fbtelephone.jpgWith Voxeo Labs' launch of the Phono software toolkit last weekend that lets you turn any browser into a phone or IM client, one of the more interesting sample applications released along with it was "Facebook Telephone", a Facebook application that lets you make phone calls from directly inside of Facebook.

In a post on the Phono blog, Chris Matthieu goes into detail about the application, how you can use it to call your friends... to call regular (PSTN) phone numbers... and also to call SIP addresses.

In using the app, I've found a couple of things rather cool:

  • The "phone-in-the-browser" has been seamless for me in the sense that after I approved the initial Flash security warning (and told it to remember my setting), it "just worked" and I was able to start speaking to people without any problems.

  • I like that you can call a friend on Facebook and if they don't have Facebook Telephone running in a browser it will automatically connect through to their mobile device.

  • It's cool that it works over WiFi... I'm looking forward to trying it out in various different locations. (like the next plane I'm on with WiFi ;-)

On the point about calling your friends, if you click the "Friends with Telephone" button you see a list of all your friends who have installed the application. If you click on their image you will call them right then from within your browser. As noted above, if they don't have the Facebook Telephone app running right then, it will ring through to the phone number they have set up in the application: fbtelephonefriends.jpg

One interesting point is that they never see my phone number - nor do I know theirs. Facebook Telephone combines the Phono client with the Tropo cloud communications service and creates an abstraction layer between you and the person you are calling.

You don't need to know the recipient's phone number... as the app just takes care of that routing for you. They see an incoming phone call from a number up on Tropo... preserving a level of anonymity between callers. Essentially, your Facebook friends list is already a master directory for messaging... now it is also that for telephone calls.

All this isn't to say the app is perfect... there can be some echo sometimes (a fact acknowledged by the Voxeo Labs team with this first release). And the current reliance on Flash means I can't use it on my iPad or iPhone.

Still, I think it's a cool use of Phono and I know Chris and the team have some even greater plans for the app.

If you'd like to try it out yourself, simply go to app.facebook.com/telephone (great URL, eh?) and step through the process of approving the app to connect to your FB account.

If you'd like to play with the technology behind the app, you can go to Phono.com and learn how to use the jQuery plugin ... and can go to Tropo.com and sign up for a free account to build multi-channel (voice, SMS, IM, Twitter) communications apps using web programming languages like ruby, PHP, python, JavaScript and Groovy.


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Skype 5.0 brings Facebook integration, group video - but ONLY if you are on Windows

skypefbphonebook.jpgSkype today released version 5.0 for Windows which looks quite cool...

but is also completely unusable to me.

First off, Skype 5.0 includes a brand new Facebook integration that wasn't in the beta program and, per Skype's blog post, let's you:

 

  • see your Facebook News Feed in Skype
  • post status updates that can be synced with your Skype mood message
  • comment and like friends’ updates and wall posts
  • call and SMS your Facebook friends on their mobile phones and landlines
  • make a free Skype-to-Skype call if your Facebook friend is also a Skype contact

Phil Wolff over at Skype Journal walks through the new release (which is where I got the screenshot at right) and shows how the integration works. You have a new "Facebook tab" in the 5.0 Skype version that has both a "News Feed" and a "Phonebook" subtab.

From what I've heard from folks trying it out this morning, the Phonebook does a one-time import of all your Facebook contacts and then you can call or SMS them via their regular PSTN phone (if it's in their Facebook profile) or via Skype if they are a contact. I'm not clear on how you keep it up-to-date with your Facebook friend list ... but I'm going to assume there is a re-import or something like that.

UPDATE #1: Jim Courtney tells me that the Phonebook appears to refresh every time you go into it and he has verified himself that information gets updated. Chaim Haas also notes that there are buttons to call or SMS people directly from within the NewsFeed - so if you were reading your Facebook NewsFeed and wanted to call or text someone related to their item in your feed you could do so right then.

As a huge daily user of Skype, I find this integration rather cool since it will let me reach people directly from within the Skype interface where I spend my time. Given that I find myself doing more text/chat interaction these days instead of voice, I'm not entirely sure how much I'll use the Phonebook... BUT... it does get closer to having a single directory that I can reference.

Skype 5.0 also has the group video calling that has been in all the betas and some other changes outlined in this video from Skype:

I do, though, have one issue with the content of the video...

The Failure of Skype 5.0

... Rick Osterloh says that group video is now rolled out to all users, which, of course, is completely false.

Group video calling is being rolled out to all Windows users.

Skype continues to miss the rise of Apple and the fact that so many of the early adopter set long ago left Windows for MacOS X. They continue to follow the fractured and fragmented product strategy that I've ranted about at length in the past (also here).

It's the same tired old story.

I'm a huge fan of Skype and a heavy daily user. I do video calls with people pretty much every day. I currently have 87 Skype chats open to various people, teams, projects and groups in which I participate. The main phone number I give to people on my blogs rings through to Skype (and my cell).

I'm a paying Skype customer.

Yet I am also on a Mac.

Along with 140 other heavy Skype-users at my company. Along with a good number of friends in the blogging community. Along with a ton of people in the IETF and bleeding-edge communication community.

I would love to write here about how great Skype 5.0 is ... and I'd love to use it and give Skype feedback... but I can't.

I of course realize that from a resource prioritization point-of-view, Skype's largest market it Windows. I get that. It's just too bad Skype can't figure out a way to come out on both platforms so that "all users" on both Mac and Windows could experience the cool new features. (Particularly since many of the Mac world are exactly the kinds of folks who seek out (and promote) "cool new features.") Of course that still leaves the Skype for Linux users out, too... but it would be a start.

Perhaps one day Skype will see the cross-platform light.... meanwhile, if you're on Windows, you can head over to Skype.com and download 5.0 today.

Have fun with it - maybe someday others of us will get to play with it, too.

UPDATE #2: Skype lead blogger Peter Parkes mentioned to me that he put up a post on the Skype Mac blog today - undoubtedly because he knew he'd get flak like this from people like me. The post is basically a repeat of the last Mac blog post back in May... that group video will be coming, etc., etc. Peter does, though, promise:

we intend to give our app for Mac OS X a complete overhaul, both in terms of the way it looks, and in terms of functionality

We'll see what that means :-) Well, and when...


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Equals' "Party Line" app uses Voxeo's platform to bring voice to Facebook

voxeologo.gifHave you ever wanted to quickly get into a conference call with a group of people? What if you could just call a number and initiate a conference call that automatically dialled out to bring in the other participants? Would you see yourself using this for a group (or groups) of your friends? Could you see this being useful for a group of coworkers? Over on Voxeo's blog today, I wrote about a new Facebook application called "Party Line" that does exactly this.

facebookpartyline.jpgAs I outline in the blog post, Party Line, available (to Facebook users) at www.equals.com/partyline lets you create an unlimited number of "party lines", each of which can have up to five participants. To initiate a group call, you either dial in to 1-877-4-BUZZ-ME or you initiate the call from within the Facebook page. The application calls all the other participants and brings you all into a group conference call. You can talk for as long as you want. No bridge numbers to remember. No passcodes. Very simple to use.

For Equals, the company who developed this Facebook application, this is their first product and platform. They've indicated that in the end they want this app to also work with OpenSocial and be able to connect into the other social networking services out there supporting OpenSocial. I'll be very interested to see how well it is adopted.

From a Voxeo point-of-view, as I mention later in the blog post, this is the first Facebook app (that we know of) that uses our SIP/XML application platform, so it is admittedly exciting for us to see. We know we have a great platform for developing these kind of voice applications, but to see someone else recognize that and actually go off and develop such an application is rather cool to see.

On a technical level, it's great to see an example of what you can do with Call Control XML (CCXML). Before joining Voxeo six months ago, I knew absolutely nothing about CCXML but as I learned about what it could do, I was truly amazed. Essentially, it is an XML layer that lets you drive and control SIP-based applications. There's an amazing number of tasks you can do with CCXML and it's something I'll be writing more about here and over on Voxeo's blogs in the future. (If you'd like to learn a bit more now, you can look at the CCXML documentation, check out some CCXML tutorial videos or look at the recent post about sending telephony presence to Twitter.)

Anyway, for the moment I would encourage you to check out my Voxeo blog post with more details about Party Line, install the Party Line app and try it out! Please do let us know what you think.

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How do YOU see social networking changing enterprise communication?

1F986311-DE40-482A-B982-3300FE408328.jpgHow do you see "social networking" and "social media" changing communication within companies, enterprises, etc.? How do you think blogs, wikis, etc. will change enterprise communication? What about Facebook and other similar sites?

What would you say on this topic to an audience at VoiceCon Orlando this week?

That's the task ahead of Irwin Lazar and I as we talk with Eric Krapf and Fred Knight in a keynote "conversation" from 10:30-11:00am on Wednesday. The panel, called "Social Networking Meets Enterprise Communication"has this for a description:

It's no secret that world of enterprise communications is undergoing a transformation; IP Telephony and Unified Communications are changing the nature of the game. Now new forms of interaction, which began in the consumer/personal communications market -- blogs, wikis and online services like Facebook are migrating into the enterprise. Where do these social networking systems and mindset fit into the enterprise communications landscape? Join us for a discussion about what's real today and what's likely to happen in the future.

Obviously, this is a topic about which I am rather opinionated and have been writing about in my various blogs for years (including this blog, as well as on Disruptive Conversations and in my reports into For Immediate Release), so I'm very much looking forward to the session with Irwin on Wednesday.

We've already got a long list of points we can cover... and obviously won't be able to cover them all in only 30 minutes (and we've got a hard stop at 11am as what's next is a presentation with Al Gore and Cisco CEO John Chambers!). But I thought to myself - how can I do a keynote panel on the impact of social networking in enterprise communication if I don't somehow include social networking into the prep for that panel?

So here's my question for you all -

What do you see as the top one or two ways that social networking / social media will change the ways in which people communicate within enterprises?
Both internally among employees and also externally between the company and its customers and partners?

To perhaps get the conversation going, here are a few of the topics that Irwin and I already have in our list:

  • interest in the opportunities to improve collaboration among employees, especially virtual/distributed
  • interest in the opportunities to improve collaboration with customers and partners/vendors
  • concerns over enterprise usage of public sites/services, i.e. what security is there for corporate data out on these sites?
  • challenges with rolling out these services internally (from a deployment point-of-view as well as business case, who owns it, integration of different systems, etc.)
  • expectations of new generation of incoming workers
What do you think? How do you see social apps/services changing enterprise communication? (Or do you take the contrarian view that it won't?) Your feedback is definitely welcome... (thanks in advance)

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