I admit that in general I have been underwhelmed in the past with Saba. A LMS whose UI is poor, ease of use not there and questionable feature sets and service.  So, when I went and checked out Saba Social, Saba’s new social learning platform, I had very low expectations.

I was surprised.

They finally figured it out. Saba Social is a very solid product, that despite a few hiccups and “huh” moments, achieves what it sets out to do, provide a user friendly social experience.

Good

  • Best UI they have ever had – seriously, the ease of use is there and navigation is ultra simple
  • Drag and Drop on home screen, plus delete of areas – I like that
  • Ability to add new areas on home page, although there is a slight hiccup there, overall though a good job
  • Layout on other screens, again, simple to use, nav friendly
  • Extensive options under the Profile page (your profile)
  • Bookmark feature is interesting, but with this one item – Saba’s  past UI issues appear – too bad, it has an spin on the bookmark concept
  • .epub file upload that worked, which is rarely seen in any file acceptance of other social learning systems and even the majority of e-learning solutions to begin with

Average

  • Hodgepodge of social media components – albeit the extensive and main one – social networking with a FB, Linkedin components in there, and of course a blog – thankfully no pure micro-blog like thing nor wiki (A congrats on that one, btw)
  • Ability to add links, files
  • Upload speed – average, not fast, despite a home upstream speed of 2Mbs (Megabits – when u hear on TV, 10MBs for a cable or DSL, that is referring to the downstream speed (download), not upload. my downstream is 20Mbs. 2Mbs is very fast in upstream for home cable, DSL)
  • Testing worked well on all well known browsers: Latest version of Chrome, Firefox 5, IE 9 and latest version of Safari (did not test with Opera, Avant or a few others)
  • My Learning – identified the popular courses – solid

Poor

  • Over 25 different social media types and Saba Social sticks with the ones everyone always sees – WHY?
  • No Skype nor Google+ icons and thus direct connections to, under your profile (although I understand with Google+ because it is so new)
  • IM icons under profile – who is still using these things anyway?
  • No Google voice nor any news aggregators such as Google Reader, etc. icons listed under profile
  • Bookmark feature – i.e. adding a new one is difficult to figure out, i.e. UI stinks
  • Generally speaking, nothing innovative – there is so much potential there and it is wasted – I mean this can be a really awesome product, but they missed the boat
  • No multicultural buttons on the main screen
  • Under your bio profile, optional items include you providing your religion and ethnicity

Note: Saba did not provide me with the Admin side of the solution, so this review does not cover it. I am hoping they do so in the near future.

Home Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon entering Saba Social you are presented with an visually solid home screen. This is your home, which offers the ability to drag and drop any of the sections anywhere on the screen or completly remove them.

You can also add sections which are not on the screen, but are available as part of the site, this is archived by selecting “Configure Page” and choosing from a wealth of options, such as “my video channels” and “impressions”.

Your default view has the following sections

  • Wall – your status or updates
  • My Virtual Events
  • Recent Activity – with default tab of “all activity” and then two other tabs “My Network”, “My Discussions” 
  • Announcements
  • My Groups (those that you are a member of)
  • People I am following
  • Suggested Connections 

People I am Following & Suggested Connections

  • Photo and name are visible
  • When you click on the person, you again see their name, title, impressions (more on that in a sec), address, tags, latest update or their post, email address.
  • You can share this information with your followers, bookmark this information, Stop following them (i.e. you are following them to begin with) or connect with them (i.e. suggested connection) or Go to – which shows a series of icons that are created and viewed under their profile 

Top of the home screen Header

 

Consists of the following

  • Home icon
  • People
  • Groups
  • Learning
  • Videos

On the right side of the header

  • Bookmark
  • My Stuff
  • Add New
  • Search bar

What I found curious was while they showed and show throughout there options, an icon followed by text, for the headers with the exception of the home, they do not.  We are training people know that in a quick guide or training materials, we often include icons such as “a light bulb” for an idea or whatever.

Why not have a people icon, group icon, video icon and learning icon? Seems to me that this would retain consistency with the rest of their icon approach.

Your Profile

This can be quite extensive, because they offer a lot of choices/options which is something that is wonderful. Yet, at the same time, I can see someone overwhelmed.  What is nice is that they are all optional.

 

As you can see the options list is quite extensive. Again, kudos.

But here is the thing. In order for you to get to your profile, you have to click your name on the home screen, it would have been nice to see either on the main header or under “People” – “My Bio”.  I can see from their perspective that if people want to see your bio, they can see it under “suggested connections”, when they click to view your image, but that seems like an extra step.

It is one of the “hiccups” I see with the product, and it goes back to “who is this meant for”, because if it is meant for the person who initially is creating the bio and thus the learner (which it is for), then having them remember to click their name can be an irritant. People like easy, and “My Bio” on the main header is easy. 

Back to Bio

As noted on the left side of the bio, you have your picture, then underneath it which of the social media sites you belong to (but they give you only four choices)

  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
  • Facebook
  • Blog – your external blog

The ones you post, which you must provide your username and password to, appears as icons. The person who views your profile can click any of the icons and go to the site.

Some of the more interesting options include

  • Profile – Where you add information about yourself, including email address, current employment, title, short bio, current business address, employment history, education – with breakouts for institution, type (whether it was a college, university..), degree, major, completion date, and percent complete
  • Internet Profiles – i.e the Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, External blog, IM connections – Yahoo, AIM, etc., conference call information, professional interests, secondary address and optional information (more on that in a sec)

Let’s remember this is for your business, or school, it is not a general social networking site – so that joe average, who does not work at your company, can zing into the site and fill out all of this info. Of course, it could be for customers – they having their own social site, and yes a mixture of employees and customers, but honestly, would you want to fill out this much about yourself?

True it is fully optional and I surmise that from the admin side, you can turn some of this off, but if I work at your company, why would I want to put the business address down – I mean doesn’t everyone know where they work and where it is located?  Plus, do I really need to tell you what percentage I have completed for my university and date of graduation?

I found some of the suggested information (again, you do not have to enter anything) a tad too personal and really I see as a privacy issue.

But it gets better. Under the suggested information (which doesn’t state that you do not have to fill it out), is “Optional Profile Information”. This section offers you the opportunity to tell people

  • Gender (M or F)
  • DOB
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Person ID and Legal ID – which I assume can be an assigned number or employee number

 

In this section for a moment, I thought “am I in a dating site”? I mean really, my ethnicity and religion?  Who is the heck is ever going to put that in their profile, because I want to meet that person who cares little about privacy.

Think about it, would you ever share that information with another employee who you don’t really know or even if you know? Would a customer want to share that information with another customer of yours? Would you want to provide any of that to customers?

Then when you toss in some of the suggested, what customer is going to enter in some of those winners such as completion date of college, employment history or secondary address (which smells of home address). Why not add what time you go to work and when you depart for vacations, just in case they want to stop by when they are in town for a little home shopping.

Again, it is a though Saba failed to remember who is using this, and someone went into the  “social networking site” that anyone on the Internet can access.

This part of the bio, is one of my “huh, what were they thinking” and really does a massive disservice to an otherwise solid product.

Blog by the way, which is one of the options, is not your external blog, but one internal. When I tried it, it went to a page that did not exist. Interestingly enough, the icon they used is the same one as “Blogger”.

Not sure I would have went with that, when most people use WordPress, which offers an API, so that your blog looks like WordPress and you can write internally in the system and then it also appears external.

I liked that you could list your expertise in there, including technical, because if you are offering a Mentor program or SME angle, others can see who is an expert in that specific area. Yet for all that, the site does not have a Social Q/A, which could help with that approach.

One of the worst ideas, IMO, ever offered in a social learning or social platform is “Impressions”.

Impressions

Here is how it works.

  • People – followers or others who download your stuff, view your bookmarks or in general read your bio, can leave their impression of you
  • They click “leave impression” and begin to enter what they think of you
  • On the downside: this is a wonderful opportuntiy to get back at your fellow employee or boss or CEO, with a zinger comment and star rating (of course, no one will do that to the CEO or boss, unless they just quit the company or found out they got laid off)

Lets take a quick glance of that impressions piece, which btw is visible when someone clicks your “picture, under the suggested connections or people you are already following and vice versa)


And if you assume that you can stop it from happening, lets not forget that a typical issue at companies is the IT staff is slow to cut the person from the network internally, but people can access off site, so the admin has to remember to yank their password access. Of course, I assume that the admin has the capability of not offering this feature.

Without knowing if it exists on the admin side (as noted on the top of this review), a filter would be logical for anything on the platform. I have seen systems that offer it, and trust me, it saves a lot of misery and headaches.

Items that work in the system – and I found very useful

Groups

  • Nice UI and identifies what groups you belong to, leave and new groups you can join
  • Shows recent discussions and popular discussion categories 

Learning

  • Courses I am taking, with status options of not started, in-progress and completed
  • Popular courses and recommend courses

Video

  • Video channels you subscribe to, members and option to unscribe
  • New video channels you can subscribe to
  • Event recordings

Hiccups – Bookmarks

When you first create a bookmark within the “bookmark” header, there is no “?” icon which indicates help, so you have to figure out on your own on how do to it. However, within your links section, where you can add sites for people to visit, it offers the option to place it as a bookmark, so it is visible to to others.

You can also bookmark other people’s links, or latest post or link within their bio.

New Stuff

Shows all the options you have in your bio, and what is new, which is identified in ( ). Again, very nice and I found it useful when people actually add new things. As with any social platform you are going to find people who use it frequently or never use it at all, and despite you nagging them or I have seen the “ultimate” email to force people to use it, eventually they will not.  They have no idea – overall, that you can see on the back end who is using it and again, without seeing the admin – but typically found on other platforms – how often and when they were last there.

Why Not?

Here is just a brief list of sections or components that they did not offer, but really should

  • Number of times people have looked at your bio
  • Number of times your links have been clicked
  • Number of times your files have been downloaded and a top three list of the files across the entire site that have been downloaded or the most popular downloads
  • Audio message that is listed under your bio – it adds a personal touch
  • Other social media options, I mean there is over 2,400 social media sites on the net, and over 390 social networking sites – either come up with your own ideas – preferable, or look around and see what you can use
  • Extensive API and Mashup directors for you to pick and choose from

Bottom Line

Saba Social offers a wealth of choices and deserves kudos in numerous areas. Overall, it can be fun for folks and be utilized, depending on how it is setup.  Is it the best social learning or social platform on the market? No. But it is solid and has a lot of potential.

In general, this solution’s UI is very strong considering their LMS UI which is unremarkable.

The real challenges for Saba Social is support and service and eradicating some items that are very questionable from a privacy angle.

Which I hope they do, because until then they are a middle of the road solution, and who wants to be that?

 

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