IBM putting social networking tools to the test

IBM is putting its social-networking strategy to a live test with developers and partners by rolling out a set of social-networking tools those two groups can use to collaborate.

Both platforms, which will be hosted by IBM, are based on Lotus Connections, an integrated bundle of social-networking tools introduced in January and slated to ship later this year.

The social-networking incubators are as much to test drive the technology as they are to introduce users to what IBM and others think is a new era of collaboration.

Microsoft is developing its own set of social-networking tools around its Office family of products.

“What we are doing is showing our business partners the richness of social software,” says Tim Kounadis, worldwide director of channels and SMB for IBM Lotus. “We think Lotus Connections will be one way to show companies how to use social software in a business setting.”

When Lotus Connections was introduced in January, observers said one of IBM’s challenges would be to show users the business value of the software and suggest to them how to inject it into their current work habits.

Connections is an integrated suite that pulls together IBM’s BluePages, a user directory for profiles; Dogear, a bookmark-sharing application; Activities, a sophisticated to-do list; Communities, for pulling together groups of users; and Roller, a blog server developed within the Apache Software Foundation.

In addition, IBM is working on another wave of social-networking software that targets business intelligence, real-time communications and development of Web 2.0 applications.

IBM has been using many of these tools internally for years so such issues as scalability and reliability have been put to the test, according to company officials.

Connections is a set of server-based services, so it is not a new platform to install, but one that can be added to existing tools through integration with the forthcoming Notes 8 and Sametime 7.5.1 clients that are based on the Lotus Expeditor and Eclipse client frameworks. The services also can be accessed via a browser as part of a portal deployment, integrated with Microsoft Office and with Notes 7.

In addition, IBM/Lotus is pushing integration with its new Quickr file sharing and team workspace software and with its real-time communications platform as a way to create an entry ramp to the new social software tools.

For the developerWorks site, IBM will let developers create and manage social networks around certain themes. IBM will kick off the process with 12 topics that will include games and virtualization. Users will be able to set up profiles that outline their business and software.

The partners’ site is designed to foster business relationships by searching profiles, blogging and sharing links to specific content. IBM plans to populate the sites with its own executives, researchers and subject matter experts. Initially, the site will open with a few thousand partners who have been invited by IBM, according to company officials.

IBM also plans to create a site called ValueNet Connections, which will help pair up partners looking for expertise in a certain area.

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