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Could Social Networks Succeed in the Enterprise?

Online social networks are white-hot, as anyone with a teenager knows. Now start-ups are gambling that the success of MySpace will translate to the enterprise.

Visible Path and Spoke Software, for instance, are trying to uncover the connections hidden in their customers' address books. Although none of your salespeople may know the decision-maker at company X, he may be the brother-in-law (and regular e-mail correspondent) of someone in your product division.

But vendors of social network software face big obstacles, from immature software to security concerns. Visible Path CEO Antony Brydon says he has avoided "walking in and telling the CIO what a great thing we've got." Instead, he offers a free version of Visible Path, then tries to persuade the company to upgrade to the feature-rich enterprise edition, which costs $20 a month per subscriber.

A potentially insurmountable problem also looms. Microsoft's SharePoint 2007 includes a social network component. If it allows for third-party development, all may be well. Otherwise, the start-ups may be--as they say on MySpace--SOL. --Rob Hertzberg, [email protected]