BroadVision, an enterprise software company with a long and not-so-glorious history, today launched a new offering called Clearvale — what it calls a “network of networks” designed to bring social networking to businesses on a large scale, just as earlier versions of the company’s software allowed them to create Web 1.0 “portals.” The company said more than 4,000 businesses are already using the hosted software-as-a-service platform, as part of a year-long beta test. The launch also includes a strategic partnership with Softbank, the giant Japanese telecom and media holdings company.
The idea behind Clearvale is to provide a white-label social networking platform similar to Ning, but focused specifically on businesses. “We were among the first technology companies to help the enterprise understand how to do business on the web, and we feel poised to do it again — but this time for the Enterprise 2.0 era,” said Pehong Chen, founder and CEO. As part of the rollout of Clearvale, the company says it will be offering an app store for social networking tools, driven by an open API.
The name BroadVision may not be as well known as Netscape or Yahoo, but the company was one of the original Web 1.0 superstars. It went public not long after Netscape set the market for web companies on fire in 1995, but failed to make it through the web bust of the late 1990s. The stock was delisted from the Nasdaq for a time, and Chen said that BroadVision spent the past decade or so restructuring financially and becoming a much smaller business and is now ready to be reborn as a Web 2.0 software provider, offering custom social networks for businesses. In effect, Chen said he’s betting the company on this new strategy.
“We were a pioneer of e-business platforms, but we suffered because we overextended ourselves,” Chen told me in an interview prior to the Clearvale launch. “For the last decade we have been consumed with fixing that, mostly financially. We have survived, and have come back with a vengeance, with a solid balance sheet and lots of cash in the bank.” He said after watching the rise of social media and tools such as Facebook, he realized that businesses needed some way of creating “their own community online” and that BroadVision could offer that. Although software such as Yammer, Socialcast and Jive offer elements of this, Chen said no one had an “all-in-one” solution like BroadVision.
Although Clearvale can be implemented as company-hosted software for institutions such as banks and others that need to control their software more closely, Chen said it’s designed to be a social networking platform in the cloud, hosted primarily by Amazon’s EC2 infrastructure but also by major partners such as Softbank, which Chen said intends to offer social networking features to its mobile customers that are based on Clearvale. Companies such as Synaptics and Air Exchange are already using the software to create internal networks for staff and suppliers, he said. (For more on the cloud, attend the GigaOM Network’s annual cloud computing conference, Structure, June 23 & 24 in San Francisco.)
BroadVision’s existing business — building and managing web portals for companies — continues to make money, Chen says, but it has become a much smaller business than it was in the red-hot Web 1.0 days. Last year, the company had sales of $28 million, while at the peak it brought in close to 10 times that amount every year. “We may be smaller, but we are smarter,” Chen said. And what about competition from Microsoft’s SharePoint and other enterprise solutions? The BroadVision CEO said that Microsoft in particular has an existing legacy businesses that it has to protect. BroadVision, one the other hand, “doesn’t really have a lot to lose,” he said.
At first glance, Clearvale looks a little like BroadVision came up with the product while playing Web 2.0 “buzzword bingo” — it has social networking, is in the cloud, has an open API and an app store, and so on. But Chen is right that many businesses are looking for easy ways to implement social networking tools inside their companies, and BroadVision has an established reputation as an enterprise-software vendor. Whether it can make the transition to being a Web 2.0 company remains to be seen.
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