The social business software market is evolving rapidly, and so are the language and features of the category.

It's interesting to speak with the variety of vendors in this industry. Because the market is changing quickly and we're seeing a wide variety of approaches, they all struggle with what to call their software. The common denominator that I hear most often is the use of the term "social" - plain and simple. Go to Jive Software's website, for example, and there it is: "social."

This underscores the need for all of us to become familiar with the language and features of social software.

In last month's column, I provided an overview of the emerging social software market and the drivers pushing innovation. This month I'll provide a glossary of key features found in social business software.

Also, see the note at the end of this article about a spreadsheet of product features that I've made available for you to download.

In this glossary, I omitted items or terms that have been either supplanted by more modern technology (e.g., bulletin boards) or that are widely recognized and understood (e.g., browser, links).

Access control. Support for multiple roles like editor, facilitator, community manager, moderator, etc., each with its own defined access and privileges.

Activity tracking. The ability to track or view recent activity on the social site. Often allows employers to track employees' activities.

Alerts. An alert contains user-requested content such as a reminder (important), a notification (urgent), and ultimately an alert (important and urgent). Users can also receive alerts on other users' status or recent activity.

Avatars. No, not blue aliens on a distant planet, but online graphical representations of people that can include characteristics like body, clothes, gender and name of your choice.

Blogs.Allow users to reflect, share opinions, and discuss various topics in the form of an online journal while readers may comment on blog posts. Blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video.

Blogroll. A list of links in a blog usually displayed in a blog's sidebar.

Calendar. Some form of a calendar provided by the software for its users. Fully featured calendars provide a collaborative calendar capable of being viewed, edited and prioritized by multiple users.

Chat. A forum for discussion, usually informal, in the form of instant messaging or chat rooms.

Dashboard. A personalized start page that can be set up to organize and display what matters most to an individual. Dashboards can include recent work, alerts or status updates, automatic views of people, pages, conversations etc. Some software includes "drag and drop" features that allow users to click on items (a.k.a. widgets), drag them, and place on the dashboard wherever they choose.

Document sharing. Online storage for individuals to upload documents and files of all sorts so the documents are available to all or selected members. Users can keep track of documents while they are reviewed or have documents approved by team members.

Drag and drop. A website feature that allows a user to click on a virtual object and drag it to a different location or onto another virtual object.

Feeds, RSS feeds.A data format used for providing subscribers with frequently updated content - such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video - in a standardized format. Most are RSS (really simple syndication) feeds.

Forums. Forums originated as online bulletin boards and have evolved into discussion groups, typically about a product or some common theme or topic.

Groups. Capability of users to join a collection of other users based on similar interests.

Instant messaging. Real-time, text-based messaging between network members.

Microblogging. A Twitter-like form of blogging. A microblog entry could be nothing but a short sentence or fragment, or a status update - users are sometimes asked, "What are you doing right now?"

Mobile access. Capability of accessing software and its functionality from a mobile device such as an iPhone or Blackberry.

Personal workspace. A workspace like a homepage, not using widgets or applications. Sometimes used for a team's workspace.

Polling. Used to get the opinions of colleagues by asking specific questions, or to collect data for analysis.

Profile. A collection of personal data associated with a specific user - e.g., education, interests, goals, hobbies, etc.

Recommendations. Applies to both content and people - people to be "friended," groups to join, or content like blogs, stories, websites, etc.

Status. An update on the status of a user or an item such as a project. User status is can be provided in a microblog form, but in a less personalized way, e.g., busy, off-line, typing, etc.

Tags. Social bookmarking. Used to mark items like putting a label on a wiki document, an individual in a photo or an author of a document. Think of a tag as a form of online post-it to make notes, labels, identification, etc.

Taxonomy. Generally the practice and science of classification. In social sites it is an organized way of classifying online content often providing a set of categories under which contributors can add content - think Wikipedia.

Video conferencing. A set of interactive telecommunication technologies that allows two or more locations to interact via two-way video and audio transmissions simultaneously.

Web conference. A form of real-time communication in which multiple computer users, all connected to the Internet, see the same screen at all times in their Web browsers. Some Web conferencing systems include features such as chat or voice over IP.

Widgets, gadgets, snippets. Small applications or applets that can be imbedded in a social business application.

Wiki. Allows for easy creation and editing of any number of web pages and documents. Gives employees the ability to have an ongoing collaboration on documents; often a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG text editor is used.

Work flow/task management. Assists employees in prioritizing and coordinating tasks. Most software allows employers to track workflow and is often linked to an enhanced, collaborative calendar.

If you are shopping for social software, or if you envision doing so in the near future, you may be interested in a matrix prepared with the help of my colleagues at Benergy. This Excel file lists 18 key features found in the products of 37 social software companies. A copy of this matrix is available at


Lamb is senior vice president and general manager, Benergy Interworks, at A.D.A.M. Inc., in Atlanta. He can be reached at



Employers a reliable source for data

The National Business Group on Health reports that a growing number of workers seek health and medical information from their employers. In a survey conducted in October 2010, 75% of employees reported that they used their employers as a resource for medical and health information, a significant jump from 54% in 2007. "We were surprised by that number. Employers, however, in the last five years have started seeing their role as supporting and enabling consumerism," says Helen Darling, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health.

As a result, "they have been providing more information and actively making that information available on their websites and intranets," explains Darling.

Meanwhile, the percentage of workers who relied on their health plan for health and medical information increased from 67% in 2007 to 76% in 2010, according to the survey. Employees have scaled back on accessing health information from the doctor's office, magazine and newspaper articles and pharmacists. For example, in 2007, 72% of employees said they receive health information from their doctor's office or clinic. In 2010, the number dropped to 61%.

Benefits professionals will be happy to hear that nearly 70% of workers rated their employers as completely, very, or moderately trustworthy source of heath information."We tell employers to make certain that when passing on health information to workers to cite trustworthy sources," says Darling. The survey involved 1,538 employees at organizations with 2,000 or more workers.

The survey participants were between the ages of 22 and 69 and receive their health care benefits through their employer or union.

Other key findings from the survey include: Nearly 85% of respondents looked for health care information about symptoms before visiting a doctor while 71% of respondents said they brought a list of questions to ask their doctor during a visit. However, 41% indicated they were unsure how to discuss their concerns while 47% felt their doctors were rushed during the visit.

- Lydell C. Bridgeford, Employee Beneft News

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