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Socialcast is FriendFeed for your business

It's not just a rehash of faddish sites, but an actual useful work group app based on modern social networking concepts.

Socialcast on Tuesday is launching a revision of its group communication service. Originally released in 2007, Tuesday's update has a much cleaner and more contemporary interface, and liberally borrows features and ideas from social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed.

I was very impressed by the demo I got last week. Socialcast appears to have a solid, lightweight product for business communication that could help workers (along with customers and clients) keep up to date with each other, and could also reduce in-company e-mail spam.

The underlying principle of Socialcast is that users enter their status messages, questions, or ideas into a simple text box. Users can also link their accounts to other services, such as Delicious, or to RSS feeds and blogs. People who subscribe to those users can see those updates and can respond to them privately or in public.

As on FriendFeed, items that are discussed a lot stay on the top of the stack of items.

Sound familiar?

Socialcast is like FriendFeed, but with a business slant.

What makes Socialcast a business product more so than FriendFeed, Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, Jaiku, or what have you, is that it offers administrative controls appropriate for a workgroup app. Admins can hook the system into an enterprise directory service, and can make sure new people joining a workgroup are automatically subscribed to others in their company who matter to them.

The system also has different default item types than a general-purpose nanoblog or personal feed aggregator. You can enter your status, as you can with other services, or put items in the categories "ideas," "questions," "links," and "worklog." The last is especially useful to keep tabs on who's doing what.

Socialcast will also let enterprise customers "white label" the product so it carries corporate branding, and there will be capabilities to include company-specific posting types linked to an internal system. For example, when signing a new customer, the service could link to a record and pull information from it. Links to wikis and bug-tracking systems are also possible.

I believe this tool could do several good things for a company. Most importantly, it connects its users to the pulse of what's happening in a company or workgroup, and still gives them the control to dial back on the onslaught of information if they wish, by un-following certain users.

It can also help capture business knowledge in a central location. And it can greatly reduce corporate spam.

I do have some reservations, though. There's no client app for the service yet, for example, although I'm told an AIR app is forthcoming. I find that using a desktop app, Twhirl, to access FriendFeed and Twitter makes using the services much easier, and for Socialcast to really work, a persistent desktop experience (like on an e-mail app) will make a big difference.

The new small-business version of the application will cost $5 a month per user (after 30-day free trial). It's a fair price, but there are no tiers of service (flat rates for groups of users), and I worry that businesses may be stingy with subscriptions and not sign up for as many user accounts as they could use. This pricing plan might also make it harder for end users to sign up people for their service who aren't in the company proper--customers and clients, for example.

And speaking of external users, I'm not sure how the product manages security, so some feeds stay closed off to non-company users.

For Socialcast to add value to a company, it has to be used. Fortunately, it appears to be easy, even fun, to get into and use the app. I would be delighted to see CNET adopt the product. I think it could help us, and most other businesses too.

See also: Jive Clearspace, SelectMinds, Igloo, Socialtext.