Optical/IP Networks

Cisco Adds to Social Stockpile

Continuing its foray into social networks, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) announced today it's picked up the software and intellectual property behind Tribe.net, along with a few of the seven people that had been running the site.

All that stuff, people included, was in the hands of Utah Street Networks Inc., a company formed by Tribe.net founder Mark Pincus. Pincus himself isn't joining Cisco; he'll be continuing his efforts to revitalize Tribe.net, which was early into the social networking game but nowadays looks languid next to the likes of MySpace and Facebook.

Cisco isn't saying how much the deal was worth.

The Utah purchase will get melded together with Five Across, Cisco's other social-networking buy, inside the Cisco Media Solutions Group. (See Cisco Gets Social.) Five Across builds social-networking sites for clients like the National Hockey League, which wanted such a site as a way to "reconnect" with fans, says Eric Chan, head of strategy and development for Cisco's media group.

Cisco's interest is in building similar sites for its customers -- enterprises, service providers, and now, media and content groups. "This kind of idea can be applied to traditional enterprises like a Mattel or even a Cisco," Chan says. "This need for having direct connections with the users is something we've been hearing from CIOs."

Some of those companies are already trying their hand at social networking sites, much the way that Cisco has dabbled in the virtual world, Second Life. For example, CBS has used the platform from startup Ning to create a site that includes user-generated videos based on CBS shows.

As with many Web applications, it's still unclear how successful a tool social networks could be for business. "Companies are definitely looking at it. It's a question of what they end up doing," says Gina Bianchini, Ning's CEO. Ning has no problem with the idea of businesses using social networks, but its focus is more in individual users, she adds.

In a different vein, IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is trying to develop the use of social networks as an enterprise tool. Cisco isn't looking that direction yet, instead focusing on customer-based social networks, Chan says.

As for why Cisco did this so soon after the Five Across deal, Chan says Utah Street has some technologies that Five Across didn't, although he isn't specifying what they are.

Nor is Cisco saying much about this new media group, which was formed in December and has come to light only because of these two acquisitions. Chan will say this much: The group's mission doesn't revolve around social networking: "I wouldn't call it a central piece. I would call it a key component."

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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