Will HP’s 48upper be the next Facebook, or the next Dunder Mifflin Infinity?

When it comes to social networking applications, while I may be just north of 30 years old my angry old man persona is already well-developed. For now, instead of telling kids to get off my lawn, I’m skeptical about the need for all these new-fangled social networking applications. It took me some time to get onto Facebook and I was a long-time Twitter-skeptic (I’ve since been sold on both) while I’ve recently checked-out of FourSquare (do I get a badge for that?) and I still don’t see the point of Linked-In.

Always a sure-fire sign of a trend though, businesses are hungry to jump on the social networking bandwagon and develop their own social networking communities, or integrate aspects of social networking into their applications.

Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) has the Industry Solutions Partner Network, a virtual trade show environment where Cisco ISVs can market their solutions to other channel partners. And it’s almost ready to launch Quad, a Facebook-style social networking platform aimed at enterprise collaboration. Also, Grand & Toy has Empower, a Facebook-like community for SMB owners/operators.

The latest vendor to dive into the social networking pool head-first is Hewlett Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) with 48Upper, which will launch later this year. Here’s the concept: IT professionals need their own social network. It should be integrated with the business processes they already use (such as HP’s IT management software) and their employers should be able to exercise a degree of control. The idea is, if an IT pro has a problem to solve and can’t find the answer internally, they can lean on a community of trusted colleagues to get help.

HP aims to integrate the SaaS offering with its own management software, so you could go right from a system alert to searching for a solution. It will also include a wiki-like knowledge library of best practices, built by HP and the community. HP assures businesses they’ll be able to set how much information is shared outside their company, but obviously there’s not much value, or much of a social network, without the sharing.

I think the knowledge management repository and the integration with HP’s management software sounds great, although I also wonder why that’s not already part of their management suite. I’m more skeptical on the social networking aspect, though. For one, to be of true value it would need to be vendor-neutral. For most IT professionals, HP is only one of a number of vendors they work with.

To be fair, HP does say they intend 48upper to be vendor neutral, that they’ll populate the knowledge library with information from other vendors, and that they’ll open the APIs for other vendors that want to integrate it into their management systems. Will other vendors get on board, though?

That remains to be seen, but many vendors are already developing their own solutions and their own communities, and they want to be seen as the leader, not the follower. The road we’re heading down is IT professionals being asked to juggle multiple vendor communities, in addition to their own personal social networks. They’re busy people; it just doesn’t make sense.

The ideal scenario would be a community-led and build network, or the vendors getting together on one platform. Failing that, perhaps some bright young software developers can build a social networking platform to manage all these social networking platforms.

Although he’s a social networking skeptic, you can follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter (@JeffJedrasCDN) and you can join CDN’s Facebook group.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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