UC and Social Media: Respect the buzzwords?

In a recent article in InformationWeek, David F. Carr asks “Social Media And Unified Communications: Will They Blend?”

I ask: “what are they?”

Voice calling, video calling, IM, email, RSS, blogging and forums are all types of communication; presence, tagging, buddy/contacts lists, personal profiles, searching and inevitably databases of many forms are all tools which sit behind these communications methods.

A user interface presents one or more of these communications methods, powered by one or more of the tools, and represents a service to a user base.

Social media as a term generally applies to services which offer things like forums, tagging, contact lists, and profiles. UC as a term generally applies to services which offer things like voice, video and IM with presence. I should also point out that Social Media solutions are usually highly proprietary and information and users become locked-in to a solution, whereas Unified Communications solutions are usually based upon standards in many areas – with globs of proprietary glue providing the vendor’s value-add – and users can pick-and-choose to some extent.

But if these terms have any kind of definition at all, they are definitions based on history – ie: they’re defined by what vendors have been putting into their products to date, and how they’ve been marketing them, rather than by what the future may hold. Like my son is a wonderful 7 year old lad, but that only defines him today – next year he’ll be a wonderful 8 year old lad. Change is allowed.

So the question of whether UC and Social Media will live alongside each other, merge amicably or one will be devoured by the other is simply marketing and will depend not on the technologies or how people use them but on the marketing departments of the vendors who are most successful.
It’s not surprising that you get a different view depending upon which vendor you ask. So why ask a vendor?

Personally, I maintain that the clue is in the name – Unified Communications is about unifying communications. Of all sorts. Clearly that includes the types of technologies used in Social Media. Does the term “Social Media” have such a wide remit? In fact, does the term really mean anything at all? Personally, I expect people will stop using the term “Social Media” once the technologies have fully gained acceptance in our everyday lives. It’s used to define a vague set of tools which people have started using fairly recently, proprietary and poorly interworked, but as these tools become normal rather than unusual, standards emerge, and the quantity of tools in the toolkit gets larger and more varied, there will be little point in a catch-all word for them.

UC, on the other hand, as a term still has meaning because it’s about taking the tools and making them work together in a way which works not just for an individual but for a whole, possibly very large, group of people. That might be done by a vendor, or it might be done by a customer – but it can’t properly be done by anyone (unless through a single-vendor solution) until the interfaces are fully exposed and standards have emerged.

All of which leads me back to the central theme of my consulting: that effective communications systems begin with a proper appreciation of the customer needs now and future, and of the technologies both available and emerging. The marketing, the buzzwords and the ready-made-solutions are just window-dressing.

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About mikbarne
I'm a writer and freelance communications and collaboration consultant with nearly 20 years experience in UK telecommunications, specialising in VoIP, Unified Communications and Collaboration, and building effective communications architectures. Visit my Google+ Profile

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