Heliocentric universe

Consumerization of the enterprise is just a fancy way of saying, let’s make business applications that look nice and are less of a nightmare to use. But it’s not all marketing speak, says TIBCO President of Social Computing Ram Menon, the man behind what has quietly become the one of the world’s most popular enterprise social networking platforms: Tibbr.

Tibbr has grown from 1.5 million paid users less than a year ago to 6.5 million paid users today, and now has users in 7,000 global cities, and supports 2,100 distinct mobile device models. By comparison, Yammer had just 800,000 paid users when it sold to Microsoft in 2012. And amid the recent period of torrid growth, Tibbr has collected extensive feedback from its customers about the ways that social software can drive productivity and connectivity in the enterprise.

Menon and his product team, led by VP of Product and Engineering Sriram Chakravarthy, have distilled these learnings into three new productivity apps launching today on top of the Tibbr platform: social content publishing via Tibbr Pages; file management and collaboration via Tibbr Files; and social task management via Tibbr Tasks.

Before diving into what each app offers, its important to understand why TIBCO believes that these products belong within a universal social platform. The key, according to Menon, is that there is a conversation history that occurs around each project, task, and document created with the enterprise. Thus being able to collaborate and track this historical conversation is a major driver of productivity.

By contrast, when you attempt to add on social context after the fact to existing productivity platforms like Salesforce, SAP, or Jive, it becomes a second class citizen, according to Menon. It also makes it difficult to unify the conversation taking place across departments and around distinct software platforms and data repositories.

“One CIO told me recently, ‘I love social, and I love collaboration. But I don’t want multiple TVs that play one channel. I want one TV that plays multiple channels,’” Menon says. “Tibbr is all about uniting people, data, and devices in a seamless way. We haven’t seen anyone do that nearly as effectively as we’ve been able to.”

Tibbr Pages is likely the most disruptive of the three new apps launching today. Reminiscent of storify and Pinterest, the product allows Tibbr users to interact with content from local servers, third-party cloud storage platforms, cloud applications like Sharepoint and Salesforce, and social media with the goal of offering compelling real-time publishing. The end result is a beautiful and dynamic storyboard that is what PowerPoint dreams of being when it grows up.

“People are tired of waiting to create content or sending info to static Web portals and then having it quickly be out of date,” Menon says. “Our Pages are live and can be edited and republished in real-time. Best of all, it doesn’t require an army of devs to create, edit, or maintain. It’s a 21st-century wiki without the dead links, but at the same time delivering it to you in a format that people actually want to read.”

The main function of Pages is to curate, publish, and share content in real-time within the workplace, regardless of its source location. The app offers a “global finder” search feature that allows the user to identify relevant content from across its universe of connected platforms.

Tibbr Files is a more straightforward product vision, but one that will have profound impacts on enterprise productivity. The app syncs with multiple cloud storage platforms, including Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive, making the file stored in each available from within a single unified interface. Tibbr also announced a deeper integration with enterprise content collaboration platform Huddle.

More uniquely, Files will give users access to the historical conversation that has occurred around each file within the Tibbr platform. For example, understanding what changes were made to a document, when, and by whom is far easier when viewing the accompanying chat records. Documents can be searched according to the sharing party, the source platform, and keywords within the supporting conversation. Users can also download, preview, share, and view the properties of each file.

“We tried to take a very user-centric view of things,” Menon says. “The most important thing, you can always look at the context around the file, so we put that front and center.”

Tibbr files works on each platform’s public APIs, Chakravarthy says, but it was non-trivial to provide a consistent view irrespective of the file source. The company also had to consider the accessibility entitlements of each file and create a way to maintain those permissions within the Tibbr platform.

Finally, Tibbr Tasks acts is the obvious extension to the company’s existing social collaboration platform and new productivity features in Pages and Files.

“Customers always want to know who’s doing what” Menon says. But it’s not a static thing, he adds. What happened yesterday, and six months ago is just as important in providing context as is what is currently underway. “When they look at a file or project they want to know what has changed over the last months and why. We let people monitor conversations around long lead-time projects. In Microsoft Project it’s just click “task done” and move onto the next task,” he says.

Tibbr Tasks aims to deliver a “full 360 degree view” of what’s involved with a given task, including who’s involved, what tasks and milestones have been set, and what the current status is. The company argues that by providing access to the historical conversation around a given task, a manager or colleague in another department can easily get up to speed without having to request additional information, saving time for all parties involved.

What’s the one thing that unites all three of today’s newly announced apps? Conversations. Tibbr is betting that social conversations will act as the contextual glue that will hold together its growing productivity product portfolio.

While the new apps are being announced today at the company’s TUCON 2013 user conference, they will not be commercially available until late November. Several of Tibbr’s existing clients have been using the apps in beta for more than 90 days and have provided significant input into their design, according to the company.

Tibbr is owned by TIBCO, a $4 billion NASDAQ public company in the infrastructure software or “middleware” space. The company will offer Pages, Files, and Tasks, as optional paid upgrades to the base social platform, Menon says, but the pricing has not yet been made public.

Tibbr licenses start at $12 per user per month, for either the on-premise or cloud-based version of the product, with per seat pricing declining with volume. The company offers a free 60 day trial, but does not offer an ongoing freemium option, because, as Menon has said in the past, “Yammer does that for us.” As overconfident as this may sound, the fact that as of April 75 percent of all Tibbr users had switched from Yammer seems to back up the claim.

Like all of Tibbr’s existing features, the three new apps will be available across desktop, Web, and mobile, with support for the iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows Phone platforms.

“If you don’t support everything, you won’t get everyone on the platform and it won’t be useful,” Menon says. One reason we feel enterprise social has failed in the past is that the power of a network expands exponentially with the number of people on it. We have emphasized broad support from the very beginning.”

[Image via Orrery]