Box.net, a specialist in online storage and file sharing for businesses, has added enterprise social-networking features to its Web-based system and revamped the layout of its interface.
Box.net is the latest provider of hosted applications and services to tap into the growing interest among businesses to apply features made popular by consumer social-networking sites like Facebook.
For Box.net, the move signals a broadening of its core strength, which is online storage, file sharing, and content management. "We believe content is the foundation for connecting people in business," said Jen Grant, Box.net's marketing vice president.
"We already have the business content side of it. We just want to take that to the next level and start connecting people and making it much more about the social interactions between people and business," she added.
The Box.net system, used by more than 50,000 businesses, now provides a profile page for every employee, which details job duties, ongoing projects, and contact information. In addition, the profile page displays notifications of their latest actions, such as their document edits, comments, and discussion posts.
The system's Web site has also been significantly redesigned. "Now it's more about the people you're collaborating with and the work you're sharing with them" as opposed to being focused on folders and files, Grant said. Box.net has also added features to its workgroup sections, such as discussion boards, social bookmarks and automated activity updates across shared content.
With these new features, the company is attempting to make the product more attractive to IT and business decision makers, whereas it has traditionally appealed mostly to individuals within organizations, said Gartner analyst Jeffrey Mann.
Because Box.net is inexpensive and simple to set up and use, it has been easy for employees to adopt it on an ad-hoc manner without the involvement of management, he said. However, a next step in its evolution is to get the attention of managers who can roll it out more broadly in their organizations, Mann said.
"It's a young service. Its appeal so far has been that it's cheap and easy with a low barrier to entry," he said. "The challenge is that, as they add more functionality, they don't make it too complicated."
Mann sees Box.net competing against a wide range of vendors that are all converging on the market for Web-hosted collaboration applications, including large players like Microsoft with Sharepoint and IBM with Lotus Live as well as smaller vendors coming from niche SaaS areas like project management, wikis and blogs, and content management.
Box.net has different versions of its system ranging from a free, Lite edition to the Business version that costs $15 per user per month. All work on OS X, Windows, and Linux, and the company also offers a free iPhone app for viewing files.
Box.net, founded in 2005 and privately held, has among its customers Procter & Gamble, MTV, Six Flags and Rizzoli.