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IBM Connects With Social Software

Jeff Schick, IBM's vice president of social software, gives a tour of the company's various social media applications and how he uses activity streams and communities throughout the day.

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You might expect IBM to "eat its own dog food," as the software industry saying goes, by using the enterprise social software it promotes to maximum effect internally. You would be right, except that IBM's VP of social software Jeff Schick prefers to put it a bit differently.

"We drink our own champagne" is the way he prefers to say it. As part of an interview this week, Schick gave a chef's tour via Web conference of the portal he signs on to every morning, the IBM activity stream he monitors, and the range of tools he has at his fingertips that blend aspects of social media, unified communications, and all that stuff we used to call groupware.

Schick acknowledges many aspects of the new social software from IBM are simply the latest incarnations of technologies the company has had under development for years, particularly in the Lotus division that gave us Notes and Sametime. Still, he sees a generational change in these technologies driven by the more social nature of today's Web.

"From my perspective, and our experience working with clients in market, there is something subtly different," he said. "It used to be hard to publish to the Web." Collaborative environments and team workspaces have been around for years, but the content management systems and mechanisms for checking documents in and out of repositories tended to be a bit clumsy, he said. "What fundamentally happened here, in the shift to Web 2.0, is it became easy to publish content, to self-generate content, and to share it."

Executives who sign onto Facebook to keep up with their kids, friends, and families are coming into work and asking, "Why can't it be that easy?" In other words, why can't it be that easy to share information across the company and keep up with what the other people I work with are doing?

So naturally IBM has been thinking about giving users a sense of familiarity, in terms of mimicking some of the user interface metaphors found on sites like Facebook, Schick said. "I also think it's important to break down some of the silos of collaboration, which is what an activity stream gives you."

On the other hand, a corporate collaboration system can't be quite as freewheeling as Facebook, Schick said. "While the idea starts with I want something super simple to use, the next thought coming from those C-level executives is about how to ensure compliance and keep control." They also want to make sure that the social network is not just social for its own sake, but productive for getting work done.

IBM's social media software Lotus Connections (soon to be rebranded IBM Connections) addresses these requirements with a mix of ad hoc, personalized, and structured collaboration tools.

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