When networking giant Cisco acquired social network software developer Five Across last February it raised a few eyebrows. Cisco is known for its hardware, the switches and routers that power the Internet behind the scenes and in our homes. What they wanted with Web 2.0 software platforms was a curiosity. Now, ten months later, their vision is still not well explained, but a few more facts have emerged.
Late Tuesday, during Cisco’s annual analyst conference, their social networking project was mentioned during the keynote. The company revealed that in early 2008 they’ll introduce it formally as the Cisco Entertainment Operating System (EOS) platform.
Five Across and assets acquired in the March purchase of Utah Street Networks, operator of social networking site Tribe.net, form a substantial portion of EOS.
Designed as a Software-as-Service platform, the product from the company’s media Solutions Group is designed for delivering multimedia content to online communities. Initial comments suggest it will provide typical social network functionality in a turn key package along with content targeting and content distribution tools. With comments about “content finding you” it sounds like “discovery agents” are also a prominent part of the platform.
Details remain sparse but media companies look like the target customers. It also looks like Cisco might offer the product in exchange for shared advertising revenue rather than charging an outright license fee.
The National Hockey League was on board when EOS was unnamed and still limited as part of the Five Across software service. Today, the NHL and NASCAR are still using elements from that. They’re both projected as likely early clients for the EOS platform.
Because of the limited details, speculation on the market opportunity is difficult at best. The social networking space is crowded and EOS could compete against a host of other companies including the staggeringly well funded, Ning. (Ning, a social network development platform itself, raised $44m on a reported $170m pre-money valuation in July. Allen and Co managed the deal and Legg Mason was the lead investor.)
Last February, the Cisco Media Solutions Group was still in its infancy. Then, the groups initial charge was to “provide an infrastructure platform designed to help media-content owners enhance the content and entertainment experience for consumers.” In their capacity, the group seemed positioned to help manage the increasingly important customer relationships within the media.
Then, and now, it remains unquestionably clear that high powered networking hardware is increasingly relevant in supporting the large files and high traffic bandwidth that have come with increased media migration online. As examples, sites like YouTube, or MySpace rely heavily on load balancing and server infrastructure to function smoothly. For perspective, Rumors have suggested Google recently went live with it’s millionth active server. Facebook, a bandwidth hog itself, is by some accounts adding hundreds of new boxes a day.
Cisco, as the giant of networking hardware, is well positioned to profit from the changes in consumer Internet behavior. As when Five Across was purchased, it is unclear if Cisco is actually expecting EOS to be a positive revenue producing part of their product pipeline, a small loss leader to help sell hardware and support existing customer relationships, or some form of other experiment. That question remains difficult to answer. Pushed to speculate, I’d guess it’s more about selling hardware and customer relationships than success as a standalone offering.