Last year Microsoft released a ‘technical preview’ of their Knowledge Network add-on for Sharepoint. It aims to solve two problems; finding other employees who can help me with a particular subject (expertise search) and locating colleagues who have contacts with someone I’m trying to reach (connection search). It works by analyzing email to identify both the social network, based on who emails whom, and figures out expertise by looking at the contents of emails.
Unfortunately their preview period is now closed, and you can’t download the beta version any more. I assume it’s been promoted to a feature in an upcoming Sharepoint release. It is very interesting to read the customer comments they release in their blog. "I thirst for more information, quality information, about the people in my company", "identifying
and accessing expertise within the organization and uncovering
connections across the supply chain are critical elements of
competitive advantage", "Knowledge in modern organizations isn’t just 80% undocumented, it’s 95% invisible". This all fits with my experience of working in large companies, and backs up my instinct that there’s real unsatisfied demand for solutions that offer ‘people search’ within an organization. It’s also extremely interesting to look through their solutions for privacy control, which boil down to some fine-grained control of what’s exposed to whom, a bit like Facebook’s privacy settings.
It’s also surprising that even Microsoft are relying heavily on a client-side component for this, which makes sense from a ‘get up and running quickly’ point of view, but is a massive barrier for adoption. I’ll be keeping a careful eye for any news on future developments.