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Business in Vancouver

Canadian Freelance Union- CEP

ThoughtFarmer designed to promote growth of corporate social networks

by  Alan Zisman (c) 2011 First published in Business in Vancouver January 11-17, 2011 issue #1107 High Tech Office column

Web 2.0 and social networks seemed to be everywhere in 2010: on your computer, on movie theatre screens and on the cover of Time magazine. One place where it might be hard to find social networks, however: at work.

While many companies found ways to use the likes of Facebook and Twitter as marketing tools, many businesses discourage employee use, considering the social networks time- wasters at best and potential business secret leaks at worst.

But there’s a lot more to Web 2.0 interactivity than Facebook and Twitter.

Let’s not forget the widespread popularity of blogging and wikis, tools that allow users to create, edit or comment on online content. For most businesses, however, Microsoft Office and email remain the tools of choice.

Vancouver’s OpenRoad hopes that its ThoughtFarmer social intranet software will help bridge that gap by providing businesses and organizations with better ways to manage documents, share information and enable employee collaboration.

Founded in 1995, OpenRoad started out focusing on custom software and web development.

It worked with early local web adopters, including the (then) Workers Compensation Board and Business in Vancouver. It launched ThoughtFarmer in 2005 and has recently released version 4.0 to customers such as the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, the Guardian newspaper, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Oxfam and the District of Columbia court system.

OpenRoad president and co-founder Darren Gibbons told me that ThoughtFarmer expands on traditional corporate intranets.
Many organizations have used intranets to share news, key documents and policies internally with employees.

OpenRoad describes ThoughtFarmer as “an intranet for intranet-haters” that reduces the complexity of managing traditional corporate intranets.

Moreover, by adding Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis and social networks, ThoughtFarmer gives everyone in the company the ability to post information to the intranet.

The new version 4.0 adds connections to Microsoft’s widely used SharePoint server, combining ThoughtFarmer’s ease of use to SharePoint document management features. While supporting all versions of SharePoint 2010 including the free Foundation version, a SharePoint server is not required to use ThoughtFarmer.

Gibbons noted that many employees send draft documents as email attachments. The result is multiple versions of documents floating around the network. ThoughtFarmer replaces that with links to a single copy of the document on the network. The product’s new desktop connector feature allows collaborative editing of intranet-hosted files while maintaining a full revision history.

The new ThoughtFarmer version makes it easier to convert complex Microsoft Word documents into web pages for Internet or intranet posting, while preserving word processing formatting and features.

It can also be used to quickly generate PDF documents from Internet and intranet pages, and includes a statistics package for intranets.

Gibbons pointed out that many organizations are apprehensive about opening their corporate intranets to all employees, but said that clients who have done it have grown to appreciate the benefits. He noted that ThoughtFarmer does not allow anonymous posting. Blog postings are accompanied by the poster’s name, photo, job title and a link to their personal page. As a result, employees take responsibility for what they post to intranet blogs and forums.

Along with reducing the cost of managing organization intranets, Gibbons suggested that ThoughtFarmer makes documents on these networks more searchable, which makes it easier for employees to find information and people within an organization.

By combining new-generation social software with more traditional intranets and document management, OpenRoad hopes that its social intranet software ThoughtFarmer will bring clients to “Enterprise 2.0,” improving productivity while helping to build a sense of community among staff. 

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