Social Media-integrated Collaboration Systems for Business Use
René Peinl, Christian Ochsenkühn
Hof University, Institute of Information Systems
Abstract: This paper presents a concept for integrating social media functionality into existing collaboration
systems and using this functionality to also integrate the collaboration systems themselves. Social media
functionality is used in the areas contents, contacts and communication to support knowledge sharing and
knowledge maturing. Using a micro-service architecture, our concept allows for social media functionality in
every collaboration system. Users benefit from a better overview due to a central activity stream with entries of
all systems, as well as a consistent UI. They don’t have to chose a certain tool but can use the desired
functionality like rating, tagging or commenting everywhere. We further provide information about a technical
implementation of the concept with popular open source software like Liferay and OpenXchange.
Keywords: activity stream, collaborative skill management, idea management, unified social communication
Around the turn of the millennium, knowledge management initiatives that aimed at supporting collaborative
work in companies were mostly built around either document management solutions (Marwick, 2001; Skyrme,
1998; Storey and Barnett, 2000) if they employed a codification strategy, or less often groupware solutions (Alavi
and Leidner, 1999; Earl, 2001) if they employed a personalization strategy (Hansen et al., 1999). However, both
approaches did not lead to the desired success (Storey and Barnett, 2000).
In the last couple of years, social media have been hyped and tools like wikis (Grudin and Poole, 2010; Stocker
and Tochtermann, 2011), microblogs (Böhringer and Richter, 2009; Müller and Stocker, 2011) or enterprise
social networks (ESN) (Riemer et al., 2012; Turban et al., 2011) were predicted to bring collaboration to a new
level of productivity. However, from our perspective it is not reasonable to replace existing collaboration
systems with social media, rendering employees skills of working with existing systems useless, and to over-
emphasize the role of social communication. Both are required. Social media provides new technologies, a focus
on usefulness and on the medium aspect of support, while groupware and collaboration systems provide insights
into groups and the needs of organizations and management (Koch, 2008). The true nature and potential of
social media does only manifest when people incorporate them into their day-to-day work routines (Riemer et
al., 2012). For successful implementation in enterprises, social media has to be integrated in actual business
practices, and to be used – or even “lived” – by all involved parties (Koch, 2008). Collaboration systems should
be extended with social media functionality in three key areas: contacts, contents and communication (Koch,
2008, figure 3).
The objective of this paper is to demonstrate the benefits of bringing social media functionality like tagging,
rating, sharing and suggesting to existing collaboration systems, leveraging them in every system instead of
running social media systems like blogs, wikis and ESN isolated from the rest of the intranet. Despite social
media, there is still a need for well-established information systems like document management and groupware
The reminder of this paper is structured as follows. We first describe the state of the art of corporate social
media research. We continue exploring integration needs between social media and collaborative systems in
the areas contacts, contents and communication, before presenting our own implementation of these ideas. We
finish with a conclusion and brief outlook.
2. Corporate social media
Social media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow
the creation and exchange of user-generated content (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). In our paper, we concentrate
on corporate social media, also known as Enterprise 2.0 (McAfee, 2006), denoting any Web-based technology
that facilitates social interactions, such as collaboration and networking within an enterprise (Krischkowsky et
al., 2014). Collaboration is a key goal achieved by using social media within the organization (Zaffar and
Ghazawneh, 2012). It helps employees to work together on cognitive tasks and share knowledge (Zeiller and
Schauer, 2011). Especially small or medium-sized enterprises can benefit greatly from easy to use and easy to
implement software applications like social media (ibid.).
Other advantages of social media that are based on Web 2.0 technologies are (McAfee, 2006)
Search capabilities: Advance search capabilities make it easy to retrieve knowledge
Promotes discussion: Hence offers the possibility of the knowledge creation lifecycle
Availability: Anytime/anywhere and widespread availability as opposed to legacy enterprise
Low implementation cost, when using available open source and self-managed tools
Corporate social media consists of microblogging, blogs, wikis and enterprise social networks (Kinsella et al.,
2008). Current social media suites like Jive incorporate most of these categories in a comprehensive tool set.
Microblogging can be an efficient alternative to email for internal communications by establishing a general
awareness of the activities, thoughts and feelings of the co-workers (Böhringer and Richter, 2009). Interestingly,
using microblogging didn’t seem to kill informal small talk during coffee breaks or lunches. Böhringer and Richter
report that microblogging has even enriched these talks as they quite often begin with “I have read in the system
that you...” (ibid.).
Blogs are well suited to serve as online journals for users (Yang, 2009). Through blogging, people are able to
document their reflections about things relevant to their daily life experiences, sharing such things with their
friends, colleagues or group members. By responding on blogs, people can get feedback from other audiences
throughout cyberspace (ibid.).
Wikis have become increasingly used in enterprise environments for collaborative purposes, e.g., in research
projects, for papers and proposals, or for coordinating meetings (Kinsella et al., 2008). One important individual
value gained from the wiki was the simple and easy to use full-text search, allowing quick guidance for emerging
problems (Stocker and Tochtermann, 2011).
The basic features of a social networking site are profiles, friend’s listings and commenting, often along with
other features such as private messaging, discussion forums, blogging, and media uploading and sharing (Kinsella
et al., 2008). From an academic point of view however, the latter ones are already part of other social media
Employees acknowledged the potential of social collaboration platforms, but did not know how to actually make
use of that potential (Krischkowsky et al., 2014). Thus, if employees use existing software to collaborate, which
is enriched by social features they already know (e.g. from their private use of social media), it is much easier
Although organizations could force employees to use social media making them necessary to fulfil their duties
or because required information is only provided there (Zeiller and Schauer, 2011), it makes more sense to let
them use collaboration systems they are effective in working with and only provide social media functionality
on top (Jeners et al., 2013).
Organizations should avoid providing redundant information (e.g., providing the same information via email,
Intranet and social media to the employees), but decide carefully how to distribute them. Urgent information
might be best communicated via email, but a forum on the social media platform might be better suited for
providing feedback (Krischkowsky et al., 2014).
3. Social media-integrated collaboration systems
3.1 People and contacts
Looking at the list of scientific publications of the last ten years, it seem that Groupware is almost non-existent
and nobody would use it any more. However daily practice in businesses looks different. Groupware is an
essential part of daily work and also a profitable one as the market entrance of Amazon shows (Kharpal, 2015).
Following a technical definition (Koch, 2008), groupware consists of email, (group) calendars, (group) address
books and (group) task lists. However, from a social media perspective users and their activities should be moved
into the forefront of the representation as shown by Facebook and user networks should become visible and
navigable as shown by Xing (Prinz and Kolvenbach, 2012). Microsoft and IBM are currently doing that with Delve
and Verse (Sayer, 2015).
Groupware contacts usually contain both personal contacts and a corporate directory with information about
all employees. Whether there is only a name and an email address in this global directory, or other attributes
like phone number and location depends on the organization. In any case, the introduction of user profiles in
the intranet with some data coming from the corporate directory (e.g. email address and user name) and others
editable by the user (e.g. project experience and photo) is the first step towards evolving the corporate directory
into an enterprise social network (ESN). With social networking functionality you gain the benefit of viewing
relationships. There should be a balance between centrally provided data like position in the organization
hierarchy and personally managed data like team colleagues. Existing functionality like integration with the
groupware system should be preserved in order to foster adoption of the new technology.
A logical next step is to include collaborative skill management aspects (Braun et al., 2010) into this ESN and let
people suggest and endorse skills for other users similar to researchgate or Linked.in. This would be a sound
technical basis for the knowledge management instrument “collaborative skill & competence management”
described in (Peinl, 2011a).
Document management is not only about introducing a technical system, but must be considered as a socio-
technical knowledge ecology around the document lifecycle of creating, publishing, organizing, accessing and
deleting document (Ginsburg, 2000). Electronically sharing contents is not an invention of social software, but
was done with document management systems (DMS) before. At the latest after the advent of Web-based
collaborative real-time editors (Miller, 2008) like Google Docs or Office 365 that are able to import and export
documents from OpenOffice and Microsoft Office, it became clear that wikis are not fundamentally different
regarding quickly and collaboratively creating contents (see the shift from confluence wiki to Google docs in
Jeners et al., 2013). The distinction is more in the intention of creating a formal linear document with a final
result and a defined lifecycle on the one hand (DMS) or a living collection of interlinked contents that are
permanently extended and reworked on the other hand (wiki). Where documents are well-suited for project
proposals, meeting protocols and product presentations, wikis are a good choice for knowledge bases, technical
instructions and frequently asked questions.
An important concept of social media is user feedback (McAfee, 2006), e.g., comments. Wikis therefore usually
have an area for comments and discussion associated with every page (Grudin and Poole, 2010). The
commenting functionality of modern document editors is similar to that and even has some advantages, since
comments can be more fine granular attached to single words or sentences and appear without page reloading
directly beside the contents.
Other social media features are rating and tagging. Such a mechanism is usually present in wikis and blogs, but
less likely in DMS or enterprise content management systems (ECMS). Awareness mechanisms like who recently
created or modified which contents should be incorporated into DMS and ECMS as well, e.g. for making content
associations visible and navigable beyond group and folder structures (Prinz and Kolvenbach, 2012). The
resulting activity stream should show activities of each collaboration system and not only those of a single social
Another important aspect is that knowledge matures during its lifetime within an organization (Maier and
Schmidt, 2007). This maturing usually requires the transition of knowledge artefacts in the organizational
knowledge base from social software to formal documents. Whereas current systems provide good support for
the single phases of knowledge maturing, the transition from one phase to another (e.g. discussion in
communities and formalizing) is currently not supported. This drawback gets especially striking for idea and
proposal management since successful innovation requires not only good ideas but also the doggedness to
convert them into new products, processes or market success (Peinl, 2011b). Although the phase transitions
cannot be automated, it can be still supported by technology, e.g. initiating a discussions in a forum directly from
a blog post, creating a wiki page with a summary of a discussion thread and creating a project proposal document
out of a wiki page. Although this requires manual reworking of the results of automatic conversion, it is often
easier to do that, than to manually transfer the respective contents. In that way, a working idea & proposal
management can be established in organizations (Peinl, 2011a).
10 years ago, email was the most widely use communication tool with millions of users (Whittaker et al., 2005).
Despite the availability of more appropriate collaboration tools, email is still used as the primary medium for
communication in corporations (Prinz et al., 2009). One reason for the often bemoaned flood of emails is
(Whittaker et al., 2005), that emails are used for sharing documents instead of DMS, discussions instead of
forums, status updates instead of microblogging and activity streams and availability requests instead of shared
calendars and presence (ibid.).
The high number of available communication options has increased over the past few years so that complexity
for the recipient is high due to the need to manage a number of communication devices and media, as well as
for the sender who needs to try different communication options in order to finally reach the recipient (Riemer
and Taing, 2009).
Unified communications systems (UCS) are the result of convergence of telephone and computer industry and
aim at integrating traditional and novel communication media (speech, text, video) and devices (phone,
computer) with presence information and further collaboration features (Riemer and Taing, 2009).
While the first solutions from Cisco and Microsoft integrate email, instant messaging, voice over IP (VoIP) and
video conferencing, more recently, the integration of ESN were discussed (Dhara et al., 2012). These help in
obtaining the current communication context which in turn can be used to suggest important people,
documents, conversations and events depending on the user’s recent activities.
Presence information are an important means for aiding users to choose the best communication channel since
the availability of the recipient is known before the communication attempt and thus a valuable context for the
initiator’s actions is provided (Riemer and Frössler, 2006).
Further context information are provided by the activity, the user is currently involved in (Voida et al., 2008). In
current collaboration systems, the activity manifests itself in different artifacts including tasks and the activity
stream. A unified activity model should be provided across all applications rather than being embedded in a
single application (Voida et al., 2008). This is achieved by using a common workflow engine and activity stream
across all systems.
The presence status of UCS should also be integrated into other systems like the enterprise portal or DMS, e.g.
to directly see, whether the author of a document is currently available for discussion (Riemer and Frössler,
2006). The presence status usually allows a short status text in addition to the online status. Setting this text
manually is very similar to posting a short message (e.g. up to 140 characters) on a personal dashboard as part
of a microblog or ESN (Riemer et al., 2012), which is another integration point.
Emails are also often used for collaborative task management and Whittaker et al. (2005) were surprised that
little has changed in email clients in the 15 years before 2005. Approaches to better support task management
are the common task inbox in groupware systems, as well as bringing in workflow systems to relate single tasks
with others (ibid.). Although this was already suggested in 1988 according to Whittaker et al. (2005), it never
made its way into production ready systems. The user’s activity stream is the information central that brings
together both information about newly assigned tasks as well as finished ones.
5. Technical implementation of the concepts
We are currently implementing these concepts as part of the BMBF-funded project “Social Collaboration Hub”
(SCHub, https://www.sc-hub.de). The goal of SCHub is to develop a distribution-like social collaboration
solution based on open source software that provides end-users with a consistent experience across all
systems while using a modular micro-service approach (Cockcroft, 2014). The solution will be available as
Software as a Service (SaaS) in the cloud as well as on premise installation.
5.1 Overall architecture
Existing collaboration solutions today can be described as modular with respect to a component architecture
(Grundy and Hosking, 2002, e.g., Liferay) or even as highly modular relying on the OSGi standard (e.g., OX App
Suite), but they are still monolithic from the micro-service point of view, as they are a single large deployment
unit (Annett, 2014). They are reusing components during build time, e.g., Apache Lucene, but not during
runtime. Running several of those systems, they are still isolated and e.g. provide no centralized search across
all systems. The same is true for comments, rating, activity streams, workflows, authentication and so on.
Following (Jeners et al., 2013), that future groupware systems should adopt a “patchwork concept”, instead of
the mostly monolithic approach of common groupware systems, the goal of SCHub was to achieve a micro-
service architecture as far as possible without rewriting the whole system. By patchwork concept they refer to
a system providing an integration layer for lightweight systems that are integrated into the working
environment, users are already comfortable with and focus on a well-designed user interface (ibid.). Liferay is
already prepared for swapping internal components out to external services as can be seen in the architecture
diagram in figure 1.
The frontend consists of the portal UI and Java portlets, some of which include OpenSocial gadgets. Rich clients
like mobile apps can access Liferay contents through the Web service API. Access is protected via JAAS, the Java
Authentication and Authorization Service. Alternatively, external single sign-on servers like CAS can be used
(Liferay Wiki, 2011). The core services rely on a number of interface implementations. Documents can be stored
inside a database, the file system, an Amazon S3 compatible cloud storage provider like Ceph or in an external
document store via CMIS (content management interoperability services) or JCR (Java content repository, Liferay
Inc., 2014). The indexing and search mechanism is Lucene-based by default, but can be replaced by an external
Apache Solr or, lately, an ElasticSearch server (Del Pozo, 2014). The default workflow implementation is Kaleo.
However, there are also plugins that include Activiti or jBPM (Sezov, 2008) as workflow engines.
Figure 1: Liferay architecture (own illustration)
We’ve used all of these possibilities and a few others in order to break up the monolithic Liferay deployment
unit into a more modular structure, so that all participating systems can use the same runtime services. Every
functionality has a responsible system (see figure 2). Search is provided by Elastic search. Blogs, forums, wiki and
other content services are hosted by Liferay. Documents can be saved via both Liferay and OX drive, but are
internally stored in the Nuxeo ECM platform. Email and calendar functionality is provided by Open-Xchange (OX),
although Liferay has its own limited calendar functionality. Tasks, which are a third integral part of OX are
extended by Camunda’s task list which supports fetching group tasks from a shared task inbox. Camunda is
further providing workflow functionality across Liferay, Nuxeo and even OX.
Figure 2: SCHub architecture, showing the micro-service approach (own illustration)
All events are collected in Apache Shindig, the OpenSocial reference implementation. They are displayed as an
activity stream in all connected systems. Rating and tagging are also implemented in this manner. User profiles
are stored in Shindig as well. The profile page is displayed in Liferay and can be used to mark other people as
colleagues/friends which represents the social networking functionality (ESN). The network can also be explored
from the contact list in OX. Finally, authentication is provided by CAS.
The underlying layer of backend systems consists of storage and communication systems. Dovecot and Postfix
provide basic email services to OX. A MySQL Galera cluster serves as a storage backend for all relational data.
The highly interconnected social data in Shindig is stored in neo4j, a Java-based graph database. Ceph provides
block and object storage for documents. OpenLDAP serves as a backend for user data of all connected systems
and is also important for authentication.
Collaborative skill management will be implemented as suggested in (Braun et al., 2010). The people profiles are
shown in Liferay as a portlet with data stemming from Shindig. Users can suggest skills for their colleagues
(endorsing). These can accept the proposal or reject it. Other users can confirm the skills, once they are listed in
the profile. Using this mechanism, a large list of different terms for skills will arise. In order to aid finding experts,
e.g. for team staffing, these terms can be mapped into a taxonomy including synonyms. In order to foster a
shared understanding of the meaning of a skill tag, each term is linked to a wiki page with descriptions. The wiki
page will also display a list of users with the respective skill. Finally, the tagged skills can also serve as a basis for
periodical skill development discussions between employee and superior. However, the results of those
discussions may not be appropriate for a larger audience due to data protection laws.
Support for content maturing is already implemented. Ideas are described in blog posts. The Liferay blogging
portlet was extended, so that a discussion in a forum can directly be started from a link underneath (see figure
3). Alternatively you can directly move forward to collaboratively create additional content around the initial
idea in a wiki page. Contents from the blog post are copied and can be edited afterwards.
Figure 3: Screenshot of the idea maturing enhancement for Liferay blog posts
An additional portlet displays the current status of the maturing process (see figure 4, left). It can also be used
to easily navigate between the different systems. Links are also displayed in the single portlets (blog, forum,
wiki). The final step from the wiki page to the formal document in the DMS is an extension of the Liferay’s wiki
export tool (see figure 4, right). You can chose between PDF and DOCX (MS Word document format) export. The
content of the wiki page is converted using a customizable Word template and the result can be downloaded or
directly be stored in the DMS. The location can be chosen in a common file chooser dialog.
Figure 4: Screenshot of the idea maturing overview portlet (left) and enhancements for Liferay wiki export (right)
Unified social communication is only partly considered in the project. The focus is on coordination. OX is working
on its Messenger app for integrating text, audio and video chat using XMPP and WebRTC. The presence status
of a user will be displayed in the user profile and all OX apps. Once the user logs in via CAS, the status is set to
online. If the session expires, it is set to offline. It will be further enriched with information from the user’s
calendar like “in a meeting until 2 p.m.”
Tasks in OX will be integrated with Camunda’s workflow engine and task list. This is especially important, since
Camunda supports assigning tasks to a group instead of a single user so that users belonging to that group can
decide on their own to pick them or leave them for a fellow group member.
Camunda will furthermore serve as a workflow engine for both Liferay and Nuxeo. Task assignments and task
completions can be reported to the activity stream in Shindig, depending on the privacy preferences of the
We’ve presented arguments for integrating social media functionality into existing collaboration systems instead
of trying to replace the latter ones or operate both types of systems side-by-side. A concept was described that
further uses social media to integrate the collaboration systems and assist in knowledge maturing for contents,
contacts and communication. The implementation is centered around the well-known open source systems
Liferay and OpenXchange as well as other tools like Nuxeo DMS, Camunda BPM, Apache Shindig and
ElasticSearch. The resulting step into the micro-service direction is in line with suggestions found in literature
(Jeners et al., 2013). Users benefit from a better overview due to a central activity stream with entries of all
systems, as well as a consistent UI. They don’t have to chose a certain tool but can use the desired functionality
like rating, tagging or commenting everywhere. SCHub provides an integrated social workplace experience which
leverages best of breed open source components to form a competitive overall intranet solution. Although it’s
in an early phase, there are already plans to expand the reach to encompass project management like project.net
or LibrePlan as well as provide integration to enterprise resource planning systems like Odoo.
This work is partially funded by the German ministry for education and research (BMBF) as part of the FHProfUnt
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