Enterprise social software with Plone and XMPP

by Laurence Rowe on Oct 03, 2011

Now that everyone and their granny is on Facebook, it's no surprise to see the emergence of enterprise social software, with Yammer the most well known example. Starting out as "an enterprise version of Twitter," Yammer is rapidly growing into a fully fledged enterprise social network in the mode of Facebook. Enterprise social software is clearly no fad, we're now seeing this sort of functionality as requirements in RFPs.

Current enterprise social media tools have a major drawback: they are separate from and barely integrated with the main online tool for collaboration and information dissemination within an organisation, the corporate intranet/extranet. That's why I was so excited by the opportunity to talk with Yiorgis Gozadinos of Jarn at the recent Living Statues Sprint about the collaboration tools for Plone he's been building on top of XMPP.

The XMPP standard grew out of Jabber instant messaging project. As such it encompasses messaging, presence information and roster management. It powers Google Talk and Facebook Chat. And crucially it is able to function across HTTP, so browser based clients are available. This makes it an excellent abstraction for building real-time web applications.

At this point I expect those with long experience of Zope may have some concerns... As a threaded application server Zope is usually configured with a small number of fat threads, an architecture completely unsuitable or asynchronous, long-polling applications. Fortunately Yiorgis has an elegant solution: make the Zope server itself an XMPP client and simply offload the asynchronous long-polling requests to ejabberd.

XMPP is not just for chat. The Publish-Subscribe protocol extension (PubSub) enables a broad range of applications to be built on top of XMPP. We believe that the most compelling of these for Plone will be activity streams that could combine user status updates with notifications of activity on the content that concerns you.

Yiorgis' software currently supports microblogging, messaging, and collaborative editing (just like Google Docs!) Check out this screen cast recorded a few days ago:

Collaborative editing with Plone from Yiorgis Gozadinos on Vimeo.

Though it has a different focus, with PubSub XMPP has a lot of overlap with AMQP (RabbitMQ/ActiveMQ). It would certainly be possible to use XMPP for asynchronously executing expensive tasks such as text indexing, content conversion or multi-publishing. And as it spans all the way to the browser, users can be notified when tasks are complete.

I'm really excited about the possibilities that are opening up here. The software's available from github: jarn.xmpp.core. Please do take a look, I know Yiorgis is keen for more people to get involved.

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