Cisco as Business Social Network Kings? Stranger Things Could Happen…
Posted by Bob Warfield on December 12, 2007
I read on the excellent Read/Write Web that Cisco had acquired a business social networking company called Five Across. It’s very easy to think of Cisco as strictly a network “black box” (routers, switches, and all those crazy things) company, so my first reaction was to wonder what the heck it was all about. And then it hit me. Cisco also bought WebEx, which it seems to me is a fascinating thing to weave into a Social Networking fabric. It can even be used as a platform. But consider what WebEx does really well: it lets you share the computing experience on your machine with a group of others. In business, it’s used to demo. I’ve also seen it used very productively to do Tech Support, where the Tech Support person WebEx’s onto the machine having the problem so they can poke around and see what’s going on. Very useful.
That’s all business use, and we could theorize about many more business uses beyond that for the marriage of WebEx and Social Networking. But you can imagine all sorts of other sexier and more “consumery” uses if you stretch your thinking a little bit. The casual game craze is big. Perhaps WebEx becomes like that big poker table where the game itself isn’t even part of WebEx, it’s some app running on one of the participant’s PC’s that everyone can access when it’s their turn. Read/Write Web refers to Infoworld, which says that Cisco plans to introduce an “Entertainment Operating System.” Apparently EOS will combine a delivery system, a social networking platform and a set of tools to help consumers find the content they want. The National Hockey League and Nascar are playing with it today. Presumably it makes another threat to conventional television and other media when used in this fashion. Imagine hosting a virtual Superbowl Sunday involving friends all over the world. I guess the international theme works better with Soccer, and having worked with some Soccer fanatics who were stuck in the US, I can readily imagine that this would be popular.
Dan Scheinman, SVP and GM of Cisco’s media solutions group says, “We’ve become the only company that can do all of these three things together,” referring to the delivery of rich media, social networking, and search for the proper media. I’m not sure they’re the only ones, but they are early to the party and thinking ambitious thoughts, which is often a good combination. My Web 2.0 Personality Traits theory postulates there is room for a lot of different models. Facebook is not at all rich media oriented, so something like this might appeal to those who want something a lot richer.
As to whether this is a good strategy for an Internet Box company, I believe cloud computing forces all companies buildling infrastructure components to reconsider their strategies. Cloud computing pushes for commoditizing of these components, as well as massive centralization in standardized data centers. Google has reached a point where their infrastructure demands are so specific to their fabric that they’ve started building their own switches and servers rather than buying from companies like Cisco and others. If predictions of fewer much larger data centers become the trend, this process will accelerate and these big vendors will need a strategy for why their boxes make sense rather than someone elses. The Old Guard will potentially have to fight for ascendency all over again. Companies like Sun and HP are already talking quite a lot about concepts like “Red Shift” and looking at products and offerings that help to manage large centralized data centers.
Cisco is taking the interesting step of going directly to the consumer so they can own the whole stack in some areas. Vertical integration in other words. The risk is that it alienates other customers who feel Cisco may be competing with them. OTOH, if customers like Google build their own boxes, the guantlet has been thrown. At least Cisco is striking out in an area where there aren’t any big players to alienate yet.
There is another platform out there with huge potential that’s been quietly sneaking up. Adobe is building a family around Flash technology and all of it’s derivatives that is extremely potent. They’re taking the HD video delivery world by storm, so much so that it looks like Flash will be the standard for HD delivery. I also noticed an interesting article in RIApedia on the Acrobat Connect product, which looks a lot like WebEx. Characteristically, Microsoft will have to show up before too long (they probably have already and I missed it) to announce they want to play in this pond too, so Cisco is not going to have it to themselves.
Now let’s fast forward to the fun part. I’m envision a big projector at home, a connection to the Internet, running one of these thin clients in the browser, and hosting some sort of cool entertainment event involving people at my house and people elsewhere. We could be watching sports or playing shooter games. Whatever we’re doing, it’s sure to be fun!