Cisco buys into Tribe.net social network

Cisco Systems is continuing to buy its way into social networking, acquiring some assets of the company that operates Tribe.net while letting the site remain independent.

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Cisco Systems is continuing to buy its way into social networking, acquiring some assets of the company that operates Tribe.net while letting the site remain independent.

Cisco announced yesterday it has bought selected assets of Utah Street Networks, a seven-person San Francisco company founded in 2003. It did not acquire Tribe.net, a social-networking site that has been overshadowed by the success of big names such as Friendster, Facebook and MySpace. Cisco did not reveal the terms of the deal, which has already been completed.

With the purchase, Cisco gets a proprietary software infrastructure that Utah Street has used to create and maintain online communities on Tribe.net. The dominant networking vendor will integrate that software into its Cisco Media Solutions Group (CMSG), and certain Utah Street employees will join that team to continue software development, according to Cisco.

Cisco started moving into content infrastructure last year with the formation of the CMSG, which made its first acquisition last month when it bought social-networking software company Five Across. Cisco announced that acquisition had been completed yesterday.

The company sees social networking as a key part of the way media companies and other enterprises will approach their customers. On Tribe.net, users can set up personal profiles, join interest groups, post blog entries and pictures, and review local businesses. Versions of the site exist for dozens of US cities.

Utah Street brings unspecified capabilities to Cisco that Five Across – and even well known social networking sites – don't have, said Eric Chan, strategy and marketing director for CMSG.

"This is also a company that has been going through the wars of running a social networking site over the past few years," Chan said. Among other things, that real-world experience taught the company lessons about how people use such a site, he said.

Cisco is finished buying social-networking companies, at least for now, Chan said. CMSG's mission extends beyond that technology to a range of other tools for enterprises to make closer connections with their customers, he said.

Most enterprises haven't yet started using social-networking technologies but they could prove great tools for communication even within companies, said Yankee Group analyst, Zeus Kerravala. Enterprise IT departments, which typically dictate what tools employees should use to communicate, should instead provide a variety of methods users understand and let them choose, he said. Cisco can pave the way for that change by combining several such tools in one package for enterprises to deploy.

"I think it's very forward-looking by Cisco," Kerravala said. Demand for such consumer-style software will grow as today's young people enter the work force, he said. In fact, Kerravala thinks Cisco should go one step further into the future by buying Second Life creator Linden Research.

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