Socialtext offers free social networking tools to jobless

Socialtext, a Palo-Alto based vendor that builds social networking software for enterprises to use in-house, wants to do its part to pay some good will forward at recession time.

The company has begun offering all its products for free to laid-off workers from any company that has trimmed 5 percent or more of its workforce in the past year. They can use the tool to form alumni networks to exchange information about job opportunities or start new companies.

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Former employees from struggling internet giant Yahoo! as well as Divx, which makes online video players, are both starting alumni networks with the Socialtext software in the wake of lay-offs that took place at those companies before the New Year. (Links to their network pages can be found at Socialtext’s corporate alumni page).

Socialtext, which started back in 2001 selling wiki tools, has since built more Web 2.0 features on top of its core software, including social networking profiles (known as Socialtext People) and a Twitter for the enterprise (Socialtext Signals).

As more layoffs occur nationwide, the Socialtext software can help, says Ross Mayfield, president and co-founder of Socialtext.

Mayfield has sought (and received) the blessing of HR from the companies who laid off the workers. For HR departments at the companies doing the firing, the tool can help them in their post lay-off placement process, which can be less robust during lean times, Mayfield adds.

So what’s in it for Socialtext? While the ultimate goal is to give people the resources necessary to find new jobs, Mayfield says he’s confident that their experience with Socialtext will help them bring the practices of using social software onto their next company (and of course bring some business his way.) Socialtext also sells a lot of its internal tools to HR departments looking to improve their corporate intranets.

“I really want to them to be able to come together to find new jobs, start new companies and connect with people who can help each other out,” Mayfield says. “And hopefully they’ll take what they’ve learned from using our products.”

Bruce Lidl, who worked on public relations and marketing at Divx, finds himself among the 10 percent of the company that was let go in the recent round of lay-offs at the San Diego-based company. He now spearheads the Divx alumni network on Socialtext.

While alumni networks also form on LinkedIn and Facebook, Socialtext will give these job-hunters the ability to not only build group pages, but also customize their specific professional interests under the umbrella of the network, Lidl says. Lidl started the Divx network with a core group of 10 to15 members interested in getting the group off the ground.

“My thought is once it has some basis and is stable and can be effective, we’ll go out and gather a critical mass,” he says. “We’ll promote it to similar groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.”

Other successful tech company alumni networks have cropped up in the past . The alumni network for PeopleSoft, which saw a huge portion of its workforce let go after being acquired by Oracle, is a full-fledged non-profit group now.

With 3,100 members, they have communicated primarily over Yahoo Groups and LinkedIn. But as far back as late 2004, right before the massive Oracle acquisition layoffs, former PeopleSoft employee and president of the PeopleSoft Alumni Network Steve Tennant began using the Socialtext wiki to help organize his group and events.

Now, Tennant says, his group might use the newer version of the software to help niche groups in geographical or professional areas within the alumni crowd communicate with one another. “We have some of that capability with other tools like LinkedIn, but nothing we’ve found is easy for small groups and small people to get together. So we’re hoping Socialtext can help with that,” Tennant says.

More on Building a Better (and Useful) Corporate Intranet Starts With a Wiki

Four Free Wikis Worth Trying Out

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