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At Enterprise 2.0 this week, Acquia demoed new status stream functionality that will be in the next version of Commons. The ability for users to post short updates to groups and users encourages new users to jump in and participate, provides a centralized space for ambient communication that doesn't need to crowd your inbox, and keeps users connected and engaged. It also represents a new frontier: where businesses previously had to choose between traditionally laborious document-centric platforms and lightweight social streams, websites running Commons now get both. We’re redefining what "social business software" really means.
A status stream on the most basic level consists of a small textbox and a stream of activity that updates automatically to show new content. The immediacy and familiarity of this model, popularized by Facebook, encourages new users to contribute right away. Rather than being confronted with a huge form on a separate page, users can type in a few words or sentences and see the result as the stream updates right in front of them. Other users can comment on or "like" their posts, creating discussions and fostering community. When users share and discuss this easily, their engagement builds on itself and encourages even more community involvement. It's a natural example of a viral feedback loop.
This kind of communication is great for keeping employees and customers aware of what’s going on within your organization, as well as for "ambient communication" – the kind of non-urgent discussions that should be available when you have time to peruse them, but don’t need to crowd your inbox and get in the way of more critical messages. In fact, one of our primary goals with this development was to provide a centralized space for time-sensitive updates that are not urgent enough for email but avoid the pitfalls of instant messaging (namely that the recipient must be present to receive the message, and that messages are not permanent). This addition greatly expands Commons' use as a communication platform, since it already has great support for documents like proposals and guidelines that are important for extended periods of time.
Such a combination of social communication and collaboration tools is a new approach on the enterprise level. Having an interface specifically designed to focus on relevant discussions and encourage community growth brings enterprise software into the modern age. "Social business software" isn’t just a tagline anymore; it's finally living up to its name. Your company's internal and external communities know that social networking means the ability to easily and efficiently share anything, anywhere. And if your community or a group within it doesn't need social streams, they can simply un-check a box to turn them off. Commons provides immense flexibility with fast deployment – almost every feature in Commons can be rapidly enabled or disabled site-wide or per-group.
The features we’re introducing into Commons compose a mature solution that draws on a vast open-source community. Status streams are not simply tacked on to an existing stack of features; they are vertically integrated into many layers of Commons as the result of years of community development. The integration extends beyond Commons itself, too, with support for desktop and mobile applications. Where competitors struggle to add the basics, status streams in Commons are powerful and flexible from the start. And because Commons is open-source, it's easy to alter and add to the default functionality.
I recently wrote about how Commons has become a polished product and serious competitor in the enterprise social space. Far from standing still though, Commons is demonstrating the advantages of open-source by adapting to the market, innovating and pushing ahead of competitors in the increasingly important social realm. This is just one step in proving that Commons is a complete solution for social business needs.