Is Your Software Product Social?

Scott-Maxwell-500 by

Social media products are white hot, but social products are the future

Social media products allow people to connect with each other and share news, ideas, and content.  Not only do they allow other products to connect with them and share news, ideas, data, information, and other content, but they also let other products share their product features.

A social product allows other products to use its product features, data, information, and content.  A completely social product also consumes and uses product features, data, information, and content from other products for the benefit of the product users.  In essence, the product is social.

Regardless of what your software product does or what target customer segment it’s aimed at, you need to consider how you can make your product social!

There are many reasons for turning your product into a social product, including:

  • A social product at its core/kernal will allow you to more easily create different user interfaces (think interfaces for different mobile and other user devices) and even create interfaces that have a very short shelf life (think about creating an event-specific mobile application that is World Cup specific, for example).
  • The users of your products also use other products. If your product works seamlessly with those other products, the users will have a better experience.  In other words, it raises the value of your product in the minds of your users.
  • If the functionality and/or data and content in your software product is easily accessible by the millions of innovative developers, they will consume all or part of your capabilities to develop new and innovative products that you wouldn’t think of or don’t have time to work on.
  • A social product will make your business development efforts with technology partners easier, as they allow for integration without the involvement of your core developers.
  • The ultimate evolution of social media products are social products that work together to create a more fulfilling experience for users. As a result, those users will get the benefit of better functionality and more complete content (the social is built into each of the products rather than being a product).

In general, the more social your product is, the more opportunities there are for your product to be used, the more innovation will take place on your product, the more value you will bring to your users, and the more competitive advantage you will have!

How Do You Make a Social Product?

While the architecture and ecosystem for realizing the vision of social products is being developed rapidly, the first steps toward building a social product are pretty straightforward:

  1. You need an API – Make your product social by creating an API (the experts say to make a REST API) that exposes the functionality of your product and the data, information, and other content that is “housed” in it.
  2. Your UI should not bypass your API – Seperate your user interface code from your core/kernal code so that the UI is required to consume your API.  This will both allow you to develop unique user interfaces for different target audiences and let you develop device-specific interfaces more easily.  It will also help to put some pressure on your API design to make sure that it is complete and robust.
  3. Wrap your API with an API Service – Wrap your API with an API service that will expose it to the world. This should include one of the more innovative approaches of distributing your API globally using a CDN-like approach, while giving you the services necessary to easily manage the world.  For a great example of a complete API services company, take a look at Mashery, our newest portfolio company, which has both complete API services and a service that helps build a developer ecosystem to realize your vision of truly making a social product.
  4. Get third parties to start consuming your API through their products – Your API is a UI for other products…start treating it that way in your marketing department, biz dev department, customer services, and professional services.  Start with the products that are currently part of your users’ product ecosystem and then branch out to products that should be part of that ecosystem.   The more products that consume your product and add value to users, the better.  You can also develop some code samples and widgets that consume your API that make it extremely easy for developers (web, mobile, and server-side developers) to consume your product!
  5. Consume other products into your product -Figure out how to use the APIs of other products to make your product better for your users.
  6. Become more social by making your API more complete – Expand the capabilities of your API for other products the same way you make your UI more valuable to your human users.  Like a great UI product manager, figure out what the needs are for the products and UIs that you want to socialize with and then build them into your API!

What Is the Future for Social Products?

In previous waves, product development companies worked to make their products anti-social so customers were stuck with their entire stack.  While there is still some of this going on in the larger, older companies, the new wave is social products and you need to make your product social!

Newer platform companies like Salesforce.com, Facebook, and Apple have all worked hard to make their products at least semi-social to allow other products to integrate with them, with some requiring payments to join their party.

Other companies like WordPress have been very social since the beginning (including going as far as making their source code available for developers, which makes the product code even more social).

Newer companies, like the companies that create the widgets we use on this blog site, make it extremely easy for developers to integrate with them and create more value for their users.

Newer startup and expansion stage companies have a great opportunity to compete by being completely social from the start, and many are capitalizing on this idea.

There is an ecosystem building to create the parties that allow social products to socialize better.  The ecosystem includes the API services companies like Mashery as well as companies like Janrain that socialize with several services like Facebook Connect and has additional capabilities that it packages up into a great offering for the benefit of website developers and users.

I suspect that there will be a great deal of innovation in this ecosystem over the next several years that will create all kinds of different party formats. This should make it really easy for social products to socialize more while making better user experiences and simpler development experiences.

Is Your Product Social?