IBM Lotus Takes Social Networking to New HeightsBy Darryl K. Taft | Print
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IBM's Lotus division draws from its roots in collaboration software to launch Lotus Connections, a social networking platform for businesses, along with a series of related offerings aimed at helping enterprises use Web 2.0 technology to refresh legacy soORLANDO, Fla.With collaboration as its legacy, IBM's Lotus division went back to its roots and announced its plans to deliver social software for businesses.
IBM's announcements at the company's Lotusphere 2007 show here represent the "most dramatic expansion of collaborative technology ever," according to Michael Rhodin, general manager of IBM Lotus, particularly as opposed to competitive alternatives "that tell you what you have to buy."
Foremost among the new technologies IBM announced on Jan. 22 is Lotus Connections, which enables users to gather and share information through social networks and provides dashboard views of projects, people and connections in various communities.
Jeff Schick, vice president of social software for Lotus, said the "interaction of Web 2.0 technologies with IBM research resulted in IBM Lotus Connections."
Tsvi Gal, chief technology officer of Deutsche Bank, said when his organization went looking for social software tools, "there were tools but they were individual tools. We wanted one package. We are a Lotus Notes shop, so it made sense for us to work with IBM to make social networking appealing to our organization. At Deutsche Bank, I don't know 7,500 people, but I can access each and every one of them" via the social networking software the company has been working with.
Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with market research firm RedMonk, of Denver, called the new IBM social software "very interesting," adding that "the knock on collaboration software is that it has been around for more than 20 years. We've had e-mail and calendaring forever, and evolution has been incremental. But in just a couple of years we've seen a lot of action with open-source collaboration tools like del.icio.us. So it's nice to see some of the more traditional tools get some of those capabilities."
But will businesses bite?
"As for market adoption, it's hard to say what corporate adoption will be," O'Grady said. "Things have been stale for a long time."
IBM Lotus also announced Quickr, collaborative content technology that enables users to share content and integrate with wikis, blogs, content repositories and other data.
Alistair Rennie, vice president of development and technical support for Lotus, described Quickr as an integrated collaboration content server supporting multiple platforms.
"Quickr is the fastest way to share information across teams," Rennie said. "You can share content with your enterprise or your business partners."
Quickr will be released in the first half of this year and will be available in a Personal Edition and a Standard Edition. The Personal Edition will enable users to share and find content, and content will be available through RSS and ATOM feeds. The Standard Edition is for enterprise use and will be available about a month or so before the Personal Edition, which will be free, Rennie said.
Lotus will integrate Quickr with a variety of applications via Quickr connectors. And later this year, users will be able to use Quickr with Filenet and Microsoft SharePoint repositories, IBM said.
Lotus hopes to bring its legacy customers up to the new world of Lotus, promising to give Lotus QuickPlace users access to Quickr, among other moves.
The opening keynote at Lotusphere also played to a legacy theme, including an opening act known as the Ultrasonic Rock Orchestra, which sang a series of vintage songs made famous by David Bowie, Queen, The Who and others.
While the group sang of "Ch-ch-ch-changes," IBM was prepping to unleash a fresh round of collaboration software destined to help change the way enterprises work.
Next Page: Lotus' "best year ever."
Rhodin remarked how 2006 had been IBM Lotus' best year ever and marked two consecutive years of double-digit growth. Indeed, he said, Lotus is starting to outgrow its place in the physical world so it is starting up Lotusphere in the cyber-world of Second Life on Jan. 23.
Rhodin then introduced former astronaut and moon walker Neil Armstrong, who spoke of his time as a test pilot and astronaut and his mission to place a mirror on the moon for scientific research.
"Good ideas and good design stand the test of time," Armstrong said.
Later, Rhodin said, "Everything we do at Lotus is not pure rocket science. We need to make everything approachable and easy to use for its intended audience; that's what we're spending the most time on these days."
Lotus also announced Sametime 7.5.1, a new version of the company's instant messaging and collaboration software with new support for real-time point-to-point video, tabbed chat, compatibility with Microsoft applications, and support for Linux servers and Macintosh clients, IBM said.
In addition, Lotus announced that Notes and Domino 8 will enter public beta in February.
Some observers said IBM's moves put the company more in competition with Microsoft. Indeed, some of the technology and positioning of Lotus Connections could be viewed as competitive with Microsoft offerings such as Windows Live Spaces, Microsoft's blogging and social networking software.
Elisa Graceffo, group product manager for collaboration and portals at Microsoft, said of IBM's Lotus Connections announcement: "While it's difficult to comment on something we've only seen screen shots of, and is yet to be delivered, I can tell you that Microsoft's approach is to deliver social networking functionality in the products customers are already using rather than foist an additional suite of tools on them. What we've heard loud and clear from customers is that when it's different from the tools they already use, it just doesn't get used."
IBM countered that its offerings are based on open, standard components, among other differences with Microsoft's offerings.
"We're going to measure ourselves, very simply, by end-user satisfaction," Rhodin said.
Moreover, Rhodin said IBM's new technology will better enable teams to work together, even virtual teams. "Perhaps even rendering the concept of the office obsolete," he said. "I like the sound of that: Office obsolete.
"Lotus has long understood the value of collaboration, and today it's our core," he said.
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