IBM parroted moves from the consumer social networking space of MySpace and Facebook by adding "friending" and several new capabilities to version 2.0 of its Lotus Connections software for businesses.
Jeff Schick, vice president of social software at IBM, discussed the new platform with eWEEK in time for the Enterprise 2.0 show in Boston this week. The event is a showcase for industry stalwarts such as IBM, Microsoft and Google to rub shoulders with startups as they seek to command attention for their Web 2.0 tools for businesses.
Most of these products are socially inclined in nature, making it the perfect showcase for Lotus Connections 2.0, which will be available June 13 in English and July 11 in 22 additional languages.
In the profiles section of Connections 2.0, users can click a button to add colleagues to their profile lists, the business equivalent of "friending" new coworkers and one of many new capabilities for the second iteration of the software.
Whereas version 1.0 of the platform offered a "reports to" chain, version 2.0 shows implicit relationships with colleagues and the ability to use people-tagging capabilities to find folks.
To better help users find what they are looking for, the new Connections home page is the front end for new integrated search across Connections and the complementary Lotus Quickr team collaboration product.
Also, not unlike Google's popular iGoogle customizable home page, IBM widgets let people customize the main page and add links to external communities such as Facebook or custom business applications used within the organization.
For example, users can add widgets for IBM's Atlas social networking visualization and analysis tool, which provides graphs that map out the important connections and the relationships between groups for Lotus Connections, to a person's Lotus Connections home page.
Such tools are important for workers to find the key assets to an organization comprised of hundreds or thousands of employees. Atlas version 2.0, which includes new privacy features to warn non-Atlas users via e-mail and blocks inappropriate words submission and processing, is expected to be available through IBM at the end of June.
In the past, people would engage in manual social network analysis by walking the halls or making calls to find what Schick called the "glue" or foundations of a business line. Atlas helps users see those relationships live on the fly.
Also, workers tag themselves or others to identify and retrieve information on any given topic and tap into the collective wisdom of a larger group. These tag clouds are displayed on a person's profile and throughout communities.
In the communities section, users may also now send e-mail notifications to colleagues with compelling social bookmarks, discussion forums and integration with wiki providers Atlassian, Confluence and Socialtext. Schick said IBM could also work with wikis from Jive Software and Google's Sites application in the future.
Ironically, IBM Connections competes with all of those vendors, as well as Microsoft's SharePoint suite and other collaboration providers. The company hopes its new features will help make its platform the social software of choice, or at least a complement to existing customer portfolios.
Schick said customer upgrades from Connections 1.0 to Connections 2.0 are seamless. The software is still $110 per user for a one-time perpetual license. Businesses can purchase the profiles or activities component of Lotus Connections at a list price of $55 per user for a perpetual license.