Borrowing a Page from Facebook and Ning, BroadVision Bets the Company on the “Social Business Cloud”

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companies create branded public or private networks that can be used for internal collaboration, customer service, e-commerce, and other tasks. The “Clearvale communities” feature, for example, is similar to Facebook Groups, allowing any employee to create forums for information sharing and invite colleagues, partners, or customers to join. “It’s a network of networks, much like Ning,” says Rodriguez. “You have customers and partners and employees, and sometimes you want to stitch them all together and publish across them, and sometimes not.”

BroadVision will charge Clearvale customers according to the number of employees using it each month, which makes it an example of what analysts call a “platform as a service,” or PaaS. That gave the company a name for the new version of the product: Clearvale Paasport.

Chen calls the rollout of Paasport a bet-the-company moment—the kind of shift that was needed to jolt BroadVision out of its long torpor and attract new users. “We’re working very hard to migrate a lot of our existing customers to Clearvale, but aside from that there is a huge pipeline of new customers—people who are disenchanted with their existing Web infrastructure because it’s so centralized, with a total lack of agility, yet at a very high cost,” he says. “This new ecosystem allows you to do it by yourself and pay by usage.”

BroadVision has learned from experience that its old enterprise portal model “does not work very well any more for organizations, and also has its architectural limitations,” Chen says. While BroadVision applied its deep understanding of security, access control, document sharing, and other subjects to Clearvale, there’s not much of the company’s original software left in the new product, he says. “Our ‘Enterprise 1.0’ portal, and variations like Microsoft SharePoint and other traditional business applications, was designed for domain specialists. It’s just hard to use, generally speaking. It’s object- and document-centric as opposed to people-centric. But one thing we learned was that when you turn the coin around and make it very people-centric, there are all kinds of possibilities.”

One of those possibilities, Chen says, is giving employees the power to generate and share their own documents and media—user-generated content, in the lingo of social media. That “energizes what a few people can do in an organization and makes them feel psychologically and culturally that this is their activity as opposed to the company’s,” he says.

Another is the ability to help users manage the multiple streams of information coming at them during the business day. In addition to e-mail, of course, there’s voicemail, instant messages, RSS feeds, wikis, social media updates from Facebook and Twitter, and additional streams from … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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