Telligent, Zimbra and the Online Community Software Space

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Last week, Telligent announced that it has acquired the assets of Zimbra from VMware. This is relatively big news in the realm of online community software, where investment and acquisition activity has slowed considerably in recent years. Six or seven years ago, this competitive arena consisted of more than a hundred startup and early stage companies. Following a lot of consolidation, the space is now dominated by only a dozen or so players, including Telligent, which I’m told will soon be rebranded under the Zimbra name.

While some acquisitions have greatly enhanced the core competitive offerings and customer bases for the various solution providers (Telligent’s acquisition of Leverage Software in December 2011 and Communispace’s acquisition of Promise Corporation in November 2012 come to mind), other acquisitions appear to have gone nowhere. Examples of the latter include the acquisition of Powered by Dachis Group, which has since exited this space, and the acquisition of RightNow (which had previously acquired HiveLive) by Oracle.

The vendor landscape for Online Customer Communities is diverse, according to Gleanster’s new benchmark report on the topic, with some vendors (e.g., GroupSite) offering technology platforms only and others (e.g., INgage, formerly Neighborhood America) offering full-blown professional services that may include moderation, content, community development and analytics in addition to the basic hosting infrastructure. Some vendors (e.g., IGLOO Software) leverage the same technology platform for both intranet-based enterprise collaboration communities and customer communities.

The last couple of years have seen the emergence of social networking integration features, which speaks to the value of connecting a brand’s online customer community to the other social networking sites where consumers spend their time. More platforms now provide the ability to embed community features on any page in a website, SEO optimized content and social network integrations. Online customer communities also need to be optimized for mobile devices of all kinds on both iOS and Android. Other key features revolve around personalization and customization. Platforms need to be flexible enough to allow brands to decide whether to make community access private or public, for example, and to easily match the look and feel of the platform to the company’s branding.

The acquisition of ZImbra’s assets, which include advanced email, calendar sharing and file-sharing tools, should go a long way toward enhancing Telligent’s platform capabilities, particularly in the social business space. The combined company will also reportedly receive investments from a number of VC firms, including Intel Capital, NXT Capital Venture Finance, BDCA and Hall Financial Group. With the combined company numbering more than 5,000 customers and 400 partners, Telligent / Zimbra will be in a good position to compete against heavy hitters like Jive Software and Lithium.

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