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Cisco to bring social networking to big media

Company is developing software to help big media companies integrate social networking and community into their Web sites.

Cisco Systems has software in the works that will help large media companies build interactive and social networking into their properties, The Wall Street Journal said Tuesday. (Subscription required.)

The new software called Eos, which stands for entertainment operating system, will allow media and content companies to build online communities for niche groups. Specifically, the software will help these companies monitor the community's interaction with each other and the content itself.

Eventually, it could even offer content recommendations from other parts of the Web site to community users. And it could help target community members with online advertising. In short, it offers content providers and media companies new ways to monetize content in a more efficient way.

Cisco plans to host the software on its own servers, charging companies a monthly fee to use it, the Journal article said. This is a new business model for Cisco, but one the company has gotten familiar with through its acquisition of the collaboration technology provider WebEx.

The technical foundation of the software comes from two key acquisitions Cisco made last year. First, Cisco bought Five Across, a software company that helps companies handle user-generated content such as blogs and podcasts. Then it bought pieces of Utah Street Networks, which operated a social-networking site called and had developed software to create and manage online communities.

According to the article, Cisco will test a scaled-down version of online communities developed using the software with the National Hockey League and Nascar.

The Eos initiative fits into Cisco's wider strategy for expanding its business beyond simply providing infrastructure gear like switching and routing equipment. For more than a year, CEO John Chambers has been emphasizing how the company will help facilitate collaboration and social networking.

Chambers sees a massive wave of content coming into the home over broadband networks. And he sees all that content, including video, music, and photos, being distributed throughout the home via an IP network. This is a gold mine for Cisco, which through Scientific-Atlanta and Linksys provide gear that can deliver IP content to the home and distribute it from room to room. But Cisco also sees opportunity in helping media companies deliver this content and monetize it. And that's where Eos comes in.

But it won't be an easy market for Cisco to dominate. The company is moving into new territory as a software service provider. Not only will it face stiff competition, but it will also have to figure out a new way of doing business.

That said, taking on new markets is something that Cisco has traditionally done well. And if it can continue to leverage smart, strategic acquisitions, it stands a good chance of leading here as well.

In addition to these efforts to help media companies make their content more available, Cisco is also pushing ahead in its consumer strategy. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, the company introduced some new hardware products and unveiled a new branding and marketing strategy that puts the name "Cisco" more prominently in front of consumers.

Specifically, it ditched the Scientific-Atlanta brand on new cable set-top boxes. Cisco bought the No. 2 cable set-top maker back in 2005 and had kept the old branding for the products. Cisco also plans to use the Cisco logo more prominently on Linksys home networking equipment, such as wireless routers.