Today we announced the availability of eXo Social 1.0. eXo Social provides an extension to the GateIn Portal Framework, to add social features to portal-based web apps; it also serves as a preview of some of the features of the future eXo Platform 3.0. Let’s take a closer look at what’s in the download (in addition to GateIn, which comes bundled with eXo Social 1.0).
Bringing users to the center
As a portal framework, GateIn is ready for enterprises, with strong support for LDAP and SSO. But is also a great application deployment platform, by reconciling server-side components, like portlets, with the Portal container and the portlet bridge for JSF. GateIn is perfect for the more mashup-oriented use cases, enabling easy development of gadgets. All around, it is especially well-suited for a corporate intranet.
Traditionally intranets have featured a mix of content and applications. Today, inspired by our observation of the consumer web, we want to bring another variable to the equation: people. Many intranet projects suffer because the lack of interest of the users – an intranet doesn’t engage, it provides top-down information sharing. Even on a well-structured intranet, finding a piece of information is often a pain.
eXo Social recognizes that users are more than just passive application operators and content consumers. They need to get the right information at the right time, have a voice, and exercise more control over their workflow.
eXo Social aims to revive your portal project by putting users in a more central place.
From a simple corporate directory to an Enterprise Social Network
The People module within eXo Social allows you to create a social network for existing portal users. Each portal user is added in a global directory, where users can search people by name and also by role, responsibility, experience and job skills. This makes it much easier to find domain experts for interdepartmental work. Each user has full control of the information he or she wants to publish in their profile.
We are talking about turning a company directory into an enterprise social network. eXo Social is able to do this with GateIn at the foundation. GateIn is very flexible in the way it lets you store the organization model (users, groups qnd roles). Under the hood, it’s the PicketLink IDM framework, which was designed for maximum adaptability.
There is a great step-by-step tutorial that explains how to configure GateIn to have the org model stored in an enterprise directory such as an LDAP or an Active Directory. Following these steps, all directory users will be instantly recognized as portal users. And portal users form the basis for eXo Social’s People directory.
But, enriching profiles and making them searchable is not enough. Indeed, there needs to be relationships between people to form a network. We do this by allowing users to connect with each other. Once two users are connected they will receive status updates about each other in their respective network activity streams. Connecting to someone else lets you follow his work. Users have full control of their connections, and can request or revoke connections at any time.
In a corporate context, very often you need to go beyond individual connections and work collaboratively in a group. That’s where Spaces comes into play. A space is a group collaboration workspace within the portal.
How is it different from GateIn’s group pages? In GateIn, you can assign a set of pages to be viewable only to members of a group. A portal administrator will typically create a group, then initialize navigation, create a couple of pages and install some applications within it.
Spaces lets any user become a community manager by simply clicking a “add a new space” button. This will instantly and automatically create a new group, instanciate a navigation, predefine a layout and install a few initial pages: space home, dashboard, members and settings.
In a space, a community manager can add and remove applications to the workspace in a single-click. Behind the scenes, Spaces manages all the plumbing of creating a page, adding an application on it and setting up permissions. The available applications are coming from the GateIn Application Registry, so it’s still under the control of the portal admin. A “power” space manager can still have access to the page and application settings. Advanced managers can even completely edit the navigation and the layout of the pages. In fact, space mangers are local admins for their community, but the big difference it that they do not need extensive training to get started. Everything has been simplified to be ready to jam quickly!
Heads-up devs, it’s OpenSocial!
With the People and Spaces features within eXo Social, you have new tools to build vibrant intranet portals where people really interact. But you can go further. The support for gadgets offer great mashup capabilities, and they can be integrated as first-class applications with spaces or in classical dashboards.
eXo Social conforms to the OpenSocial specification. This means any eXo Social instance comes with an endpoint for the OpenSocial Social Server API, so developers can interact with the People and the Activities data directly. Client libraries are available for gadget developers, Java developers and also PHP developers.
There are also a number of extension points to help developers with integrations that further enhance the user experience.
As an example of it, take a look at this video that shows how a team of developers has tuned eXo Social for their own needs. They created activity streams for JIRA, Sonar and Hudson applications, which then publish application activity into a development team space.