IBM Gulps Its Own Web 2.0 Kool-Aid

Behind the firewall, Big Blue staffers are embracing a host of conventional and experimental Web technologies.

NEW YORK—Google is often portrayed as the technology hipster, rolling out Web applications almost at whim.

But unseen to the public, IBM is rolling out Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis, mashups and virtual reality technologies to help its employees be more productive. Inside its firewall, Big Blue looks pretty hip.

IBM officials, led by IBM CIO Mark Hennessy, demonstrated several of those technologies for a small group of reporters and analysts at the company's main Madison Avenue office Dec. 18.

IBM's Metaverse virtual reality software is one of these areas. Though still a bit rough around the edges—it won't be mistaken for Second Life—some 2,200 IBM staffers are testing ways to collaborate with colleagues in the Metaverse, according to Mike Ackerbauer, innovation manager for collaboration development at IBM.

Ackerbauer said IBM staffers leverage IBM's internal virtual conferencing application through Web services to have online meetings in 3D. This approach is a boon for IBM employees, who are spread out all over the world.

The meeting room Ackerbauer showed eWEEK was sparsely furnished, but serviceable, with a screen on the wall to simulate the typical conference room.


Click here to read more about IBM's Atlas social visualization tools.

For 2008, Ackerbauer said he and his team are working on how to include the mashups created by IBM employees, likely on the virtual meeting room's screen.

"We'll go beyond showing the flat two-dimensional presentation," Ackerbauer told eWEEK during a demonstration after the event. "Right now the business value is that I can do a presentation in the Metaverse and see all of my team together."

Other scenarios on tap for 2008 include one-on-one meetings between employees and their supervisors for training purposes, but not for performance reviews. Ackerbauer said these type of meetings wouldn't work because, unlike in Second Life, IBM's Metaverse is not programmed to render body language of the avatars.

The team will also figure out how to add VOIP (Voice Over IP) to the Metaverse, possibly through an integration with IBM's Lotus Sametime.

To that end, the external world may be familiar with QEDWiki as IBM's mashup maker, fusing disparate applications to generate greater business value. Behind the firewall, IBM hosts a number of creative mashups under the company's SAE (Situation Applications Environment) umbrella for departments and workgroups to use.


These mashups, Luba Cherbakov, distinguished engineer and application architect for IBM told eWEEK during a demo after the event, include the Team Analytics application.

This mashup features several services, including: employee profiles from the company's internal Blue Pages directory of who's who; graphs showing the time zones and maps of where the employees are located; and a graph of employee relationships, showing who works with who and for whom.


Read more here about IBM's entrance into corporate social networking.

That's just one of the more than 150 mashups IBMers have created in a year, said Cherbakov, who also oversees IBM's Blog Central, Wiki Central, the IBM Jams online threaded discussion and ratings system and ThinkPlace, an online idea-sharing marketplace used by more than 145,000 staffers.

The Metaverse and mashups beg the question: Is IBM designing these applications to appease the young programmers incoming from college, perhaps to keep the best talent from flocking to so-called cool companies such as Google or Facebook?

Cherbakov wouldn't go as far to confirm this theory, but she did say that such newfangled technologies are geared for workers "used to taking responsibility for automating their work environment."

It's clear IBM employees get a high level of value from such applications, but IBM is hardly the only high-tech vendor juggling numerous remote offices.

Why not try to sell some of those technologies? IBM CIO Hennessy told eWEEK that IBM has not ruled out any of those opportunities but wouldn't say which was close to making its way to the product pipeline. Regardless, Lotus Connections could get some company.


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