Oracle unveiled its Social Network at Open World, but it seems most in the industry weren’t aware of it – or maybe Oracle does not want them to pay much attention to it. My synopsis is that Oracle Social Network is definitely a work in progress that, even by Oracle own yardsticks of marketing and accessibility, is not ready to for enterprise use.
I did a quick analysis of Oracle WebCenter Social, a cloud-based tool for building for building social enterprise systems and foundation for Oracle Social Network that is part of Oracle middleware and partly why it has challenges as business software. I have to wonder how well Oracle has thought this out; even its marketing collateral seems not to understand the dynamics of social media, and the screen shots provide the highlights of its user experience challenges. The demonstration of Oracle Social Network on an Apple iPad at Open World also introduce further challenges in understanding the dynamics of using a tablet and expectations well plowed by other applications available today.
I have reasons for this blunt assessment. The software is engaging and designed to flow well and does a poor job of providing the experience others already expect in other collaborative and social media applications like Facebook, LinkedIn and other consumer social networks. See for yourself at Oracle Public Cloud and Oracle Social Network; there are no pictures, no trial download and nothing else that would impress someone enough to spend time on this product. And the Social Network YouTube video shows no product and has nothing to convince business users or even IT that Oracle should be on their list of collaborative and social enterprise software to consider. To engage business people in social media requires a product that they can access and experience, but this one is not even available for a trial or access from an iPhone or iPad; when I tried that, I got an interface suitable for IT specialists or DBAs, asking me to input data for host, port, context, etc. and no ability to try their existing software on the Apple application store.
The people behind Oracle Social Network seem to have limited social media engagement themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other popular sites from my quick analysis. It should be obvious that if you do not experience and understand the consumer aspects of collaboration and social media, it will be a challenge to construct a business framework that will attract business users who are also consumers.
Part of my role as an analyst is to advise business professionals on technology that can help with what matters to them, and that includes warning them not to jump into something that has an uncertain future. I believe that collaboration and social media are two of the business technology innovations of the decade as I discussed earlier this year. But I have to conclude, at least at this early stage, Oracle does not get it when it comes to collaboration and social media for business. They have tried for some time through many generations of technology with the same results of something new in the future to replace its previous products. You can read for yourself an uninspiring white paper on Oracle Social Network and overview of it. This product might be useful if embedded in Oracle Fusion Applications, but as a stand-alone product it needs lots of work. The sad passing of Steve Jobs reminds us that Oracle could learn plenty from Apple about brand management and the user experience in marketing Oracle Social Network. The Oracle WebCenter technology makes a strong foundation, but the social collaborative framework on top of it needs more work. I have already reviewed Oracle’s archrival’s Salesforce Chatter, and while that product is not fully developed yet, it is engaging to users and accessible today on the Web and mobile devices.
This Social Network announcement is premature at best. It suggests that Oracle felt it had to respond to a trend but shows a lack of readiness to engage business. Even navigating on the Oracle website to collaboration on Oracle Fusion Middleware gets you to a 404 error – a social disconnect on its own website. If you are in IT, be sure you can demonstrate that this software will have relevance and get buy-in from business before even thinking about deploying it. Oracle could be heading down the same path Microsoft took over the last decade in developing enterprise software products that sound good but in the end are not the ones that business chooses to innovate with, which is really what it is all about. I suspect we are not going to hear much more about Oracle Social Network until Open World next year, but let’s see if Oracle can surprise us with major improvement before then.
Mark Smith – CEO & Chief Research Officer