Update: IBM continues to drive the unified communications and collaboration bus, speeding closer along the road to Bluehouse, the company's software as a service social networking and collaboration software for businesses.
When IBM introduced Bluehouse last January at its annual Lotusphere gala, company officials provided murky details about what exactly businesses would do with the software.
The core messaging was that Bluehouse would include "extranet services that make it easy for small-and-medium sized companies to securely collaborate beyond their organizational boundaries."
We now know IBM means social networking tools, including profiles, activities and Dogear bookmarking technology from IBM's Lotus Connections suite. Bluehouse also lets users store and share documents, leverage instant messaging and presence capabilities from Lotus Sametime and trigger Web conferences from Lotus Sametime Unyte.
No unified telephony capability is available in Bluehouse at this point. IBM has also dropped the once explicit SMB tag.
Today, IBM launched an open beta for Bluehouse, a SAAS product to let business workers share documents and contacts, work together on project activities, host online meetings and build social networking communities through a Web browser.
But the neat trick is that Bluehouse isn't meant necessarily just for one internal workgroup. The SAAS platform can be used by anyone beyond company boundaries to collaborate with partners, agencies, suppliers and customers as securely as they might work with co-workers.
Sean Poulley, vice president and online collaboration services, told me the solution was originally aimed at SMBs but allowed that departments in larger companies will likely leverage the software, too.
"We now have a very, very clear view of where the value lies for Bluehouse," Poulley said.
That view will evolve to include the integration of third-party applications and services, effectively making Bluehouse a platform with an ecosystem instead of another Web service in a silo, Poulley said. He declined to commit to a launch date for Bluehouse.
Bluehouse is yet another key piece of IBM's UCC (unified communications and collaboration) software portfolio.
The company last March vowed to invest at least $1 billion in this area, which is highly competitive. Read more about it here.
Google, Microsoft, Cisco and several startups are offering UCC platforms. You can bet there is a big land grab to snap up as many untapped customers as possible. CallWave, Yugma, Socialtext, Atlassian and others make up the second tier of collaboration software makers.
Poulley also said IBM has upgraded its Lotus Sametime Unyte Web conferencing service, an application the company acquired when it bought WebDialogs last year. While Sametime Unyte has been offered only in English to this point, the app now includes support for several languages.
There is also now a "waiting room" for meeting participants to gather, shielding the participants from the organizer's Web conference preparations and specialized alerts and prompts for meeting hosts.
Eventually, IBM will integrate Sametime Unyte with Lotus Notes and Lotus Sametime to allow people working in e-mail or instant messaging to join Web conferences with a single click of a button.