IBM is taking its social software efforts out of its own lab and into the more open IBM Center for Social Software, an incubator lab where IBM’s customers and partners, as well as university faculty and students, can create social software together that will aid in building enterprisewide collaboration among customers, partners and employees.
Bob Picciano, general manager of IBM Lotus software and WebSphere Portal, will announce the Cambridge, Mass.-based center in his keynote at Interop in New York Sept. 17.
I spoke with IBM Center for Social Software Director and IBM Fellow Irene Greif, as well as Jeff Schick, vice president of social software at IBM, last week for the details.
Greif said that while IBM has engaged in social experiments both internally and externally, the center will formalize the company’s efforts to attract the top social computing scientists from around the world and get them to collaborate with IBM and its customers and partners.
“We’ll co-invent some things while they’re here,” Greif confirmed to me.
The collaboration will help shape IBM’s Web 2.0 collaboration portfolio, including social discovery, social search and new cloud computing efforts for social software. Ideally, this type of collaboration will yield better, more innovative social software, including what IBM says are the “next killer Web 2.0 applications.”
“We’re going to be more focused on explicitly taking on projects that will change our route to market, that will help us work more closely with Lotus, but also develop paths to our own internal deployments that will keep us at the leading edge of social software,” Greif said.
Schick added that the center will help with the heavy lifting of making products available to 120 countries around the planet in as many languages as possible.
The allure of such a center for IBM is obvious at a practical level. IBM sells a social software suite called Lotus Connections, which includes bookmarking tools such as Dogear, as well as employee profiles, communities, blogs and activities.
IBM to Be Facebook, MySpace for the Enterprise?
These tools enable IBM customers to create communities within a business, something that has become table stakes for companies that want to ensure enterprisewide collaboration among customers, partners and employees.
With the center, IBM shows signs of desiring to be the Facebook or MySpace of social software in the enterprise; Big Blue desires to rack up as many users for Connections and other technologies as possible.
Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters are the first companies to participate in the center’s Corporate Residency program, which gives businesses hands-on access to IBM’s social software research.
Organizations participating in the program will send employees to the center for three months. These volunteers will be matched up with a team of IBM researchers and university students to work on specific social computing projects.
Given the center’s proximity to so many prestigious schools and scholastic talent, Greif said IBM will collaborate with students and faculty at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as with other researchers around the world.
IBM Research’s internship program will be expanded to include the academic year so that university students can be matched with a project, client or area of research at the IBM Center for Social Software.
There can be no denying IBM’s financial clout or glut of human and infrastructure resources to throw at social computing, but IBM also has competition in niche areas of the market. Many companies, such as InsideView, are popularizing social communities in sales forces and CRM.
In fact, Wi5Connect Sept. 17 launched CommSocial, which aims to add e-learning tools to social networks for businesses.
However, Gartner analysts such as Anthony Bradley love to offer cautionary tales on social software adoption. Bradley said in a new report that many social software projects fail because IT managers wrongly believe that successful communities form spontaneously after social software tools are installed.
Indeed, IT and business managers in charge of deploying social software must choose a core purpose for the community and arrange implementation to achieve that purpose.
Taking Bradley’s warning into account with the seemingly widespread ban of social tools in the enterprise, IBM and these businesses must work harder than they expect to grow their user bases.