ORLANDO, Fla.—Though IBM is often viewed as a stodgy old technology giant focused primarily on delivering old-school solutions for big, plodding enterprises, the company continues to churn out new ideas and technologies that many never see.
Yet, although Ive long known about alphaWorks—IBMs community site for providing folks with access to IBMs emerging technology coming out of the companys research labs—I rarely looked at what IBM was putting out on the site. Its hardly stodgy, but it also hasnt been promoted as well as it could have been.
That is about to change, as IBM is gearing up to deliver a new version of the alphaWorks site in August, Chris Spencer, an emerging technology strategist for alphaWorks, said in a conversation at the Rational Software Development Conference here the week of June 11.
IBM annually leads the industry in technology patents, and many of the software innovations the company makes find their way onto alphaWorks. For instance, IBMs Servlet Express engine debuted on alphaWorks and became the sin 1998, Spencer said.
Meanwhile, although alphaWorks has traditionally been targeted at developers, the new version will be focused more broadly as an information resource for early adopters.
"Were hoping to provide more exposure to ideas at an early conceptual phase," Spencer said.
Moreover, with the new version of alphaWorks, IBM is planning to let the community have a hand in shaping the site.
"Were going to put out a beta and see what the market wants and likes," he said. "Then well change it to reflect that. One thing we found interesting is that developers arent just interested in tools, but increasingly they have interest in the business side of things."
One thing the new alphaWorks will do is facilitate more interactivity between the community and IBMs emerging technology creators. For example, the person who created an emerging technology will conduct a webinar on the technology, then a demonstration, followed by a live question-and-answer session where observers can use VOIP (voice over IP) to ask questions of the creator, Spencer said.
Another thing the new version of alphaWorks will provide is a "techtionary" that will follow the Wikipedia model, Spencer said. He described the techtionary as "a list of emerging technology terms defined not by us, but by the marketplace."
And next year, IBM will introduce an incentive system for participation in things like techtionary and other parts of alphaWorks, Spencer said. For example, in the case of techtionary, a user could take responsibility for a term and its maintenance and acquire a certain number of points, which could be used for things like getting earlier access to technology than others, or to get in early on webinars or other things, he said. "Incentives will be key to how the community of alphaWorks functions."
IBM launched alphaWorks in 1996. Last year, on its 10th anniversary, IBM launched a series of alphaWorks Services for the online delivery of emerging software services from IBM research and development labs.
AlphaWorks Services is a platform by which prototypes of new and emerging online application technologies aimed at the early adopter market can be showcased.
"alphaWorks Services are basically online applications that are prototypes of IBM technologies," Spencer said. "Instead of trying to guess what the market wants, were putting this stuff out there. Its embracing the idea of collective intelligence."
There are several popular alphaWorks Services, including Many Eyes, an innovative service that enables people to explore different visual representations of large amounts of data and share it with others to help them collectively make better sense of the information. Many Eyes is a collection of user-generated data visualizations. And each visualization allows for an active discussion to take place and become a common area to share ideas, add insight and understand the visualization in a group setting, Spencer said.
ThinkPlace, another alphaWorks Service, is a Web application for facilitating innovation through idea generation, collaboration and refinement.
QEDWiki, yet another of the alphaWorks Services, is an environment that extends current wiki technology to enable rapid deployment, content aggregation, structured data and powerful extensibility.
Other alphaWorks Services include the IBM Development Engagement—also known as DevEngage—Deep Thunder, and Web Relational Blocks.
IBM Development Engagement Service is an online service providing an AJAX-based development environment that enables business users to visually develop form applications. Web Relational Blocks is a visual builder platform for rapid development of Web applications. And Deep Thunder provides precision forecasting for weather-sensitive business operations.
Meanwhile, Spencer said IBM will be doing more to make the data from the alphaWorks site more transparent. For instance, as the community site gathers things like ratings, tagging and commentary from users and people start to rate and comment on technologies and other content on the site, "all that data will be collected and shared with the community," he said.
In addition, alphaWorks Services opens the door for software as a service opportunities for developers to use the services to build entrepreneurial examples around the IBM offerings—including using the IBM technology as part of mashups or as the basis for creating component technology that work with the services, Spencer said.