Product Review: Enterprise Social Networking with PeopleDock


Social networking is big, but it's visibility and utility has been limited only to the consumer world. What about enterprises and companies, though? Is there value in creating an online social network within your company?Before Google+ was launched, the G+ team created a "dogfood" version that was accessible only to Googlers. It was intended to be a test of the product, and it was a separate, walled-off instance of Google+, accessible only to Googlers. Having this private, confined social network where only Googlers were allowed was such a huge hit that they kept it around even after Google+ launched publicly. The walled-off Google+ was very popular, with Googlers using it to collaborate, share updates, do meetings on Hangout, keep track of projects, share rumors and gossip and even complain about the food.

While enterprise social networks remain hidden from the public they are a very powerful tool for companies to unlock productivity and collaboration among employees. This space is growing fast and gaining lots of attention. Just yesterday, there were some rumors that Microsoft was about to buy Yammer, the enterprise social network, for around $1 Billion!

Enter PeopleDock. PeopleDock is a social network for your enterprise. It contains typical elements of a social network, but it is only open to people who have an email address at your company. You can sign up with your corporate email address and invite other people from your company, and PeopleDock automatically puts them in the walled-off instance of the social network. Once you have invited other people, you can create your own networks (kinda like Facebook's groups or G+ Circles). And the social networking, albeit with a corporate twist, can begin.

The central piece of PeopleDock is the wall where you can post status updates, reply to your colleagues statuses and even "like" posts. And not just status updates - You can post pictures (of your "team lunch") , share attachments (like your latest sales reports) and even share events on a calendar (like that all important status meeting you have next week). And in an especially corporate-y twist, you can assign tasks or bugs and share that as well, so that it appears as a post on the wall for everyone in your network to see. The PeopleDock app has sections where you can collect these pictures, files and calendar events. And as you create "networks" containing your team, your functional areas etc..., you can share these artifacts within your networks within your company. And to complete out the social networking pieces, there's also a chat feature (including group chat), where you can chat with your colleagues. Pretty neat.

PeopleDock is rich in features. There are lots of nifty little things that I liked - Like little red "question marks" that help you learn the app. You can also "save" the state of your workspace (as you're going to end up opening lots of tabs inside the app) and restore them the next time you log in. I like the attention to detail - When you send files over chat, it saves the files in your files section automatically. The app seems very robust - "enterprise class" stable - it never showed me an error or messed up the UI. Even when I had tons of tabs opened. For a javascript-heavy site like this one, that really shows the strength of the engineering team that built this.

But that's also the problem - It is very evident that this app was built by engineers. The app is very busy - lots of features all around in the UI. Simplicity of design seems to have been sacrificed at some points. For example, there are two layers of tabs inside the app. This is separate from the tabs that are open in your browser. The icons used all around the app seem a bit dated. The app is built using the "Windows" paradigm - Lots of overlapping windows and borders and edges. For example, at one point, I had 4 modal boxes inside one another.

This never happens in Facebook or in Google+, for example. The app also has a very "heavy" feel to it.

But this is not a issue with just the PeopleDock app. Many other enterprise social products - Yammer, Podio among many others - seem to share this same problem. Traditionally, it was OK if enterprise software was not designed well as long as it was functional. But today's world is different. Enterprise users have known and seen good design - with the iPhone, Google's web properties and all the new-age web apps. Even enterprise products need to focus on good design today to be successful.

Fortunately, the product is still very useful. If you are a company that has even 10+ employees, you will almost certainly benefit from using PeopleDock to collaborate. Especially if you have younger employees who're more familiar with social networking and messaging than with email. Their paradigm of collaboration and working together will fit very well into using PeopleDock. Best of all, it is free! There is a $5 /user / month fee if you want advanced administration capabilities.

You can sign up for PeopleDock here. Happy (corporate) social networking.

And for more on Products and Exciting new Tech Startups, have a look at Techsparks and register to attend the 6 city event.


Updates from around the world