The BrainYard - Where collaborative minds congregate.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

February 2, 2007

4 Min Read

IBM, for most people, is not the first vendor that comes to mind for hip-and-happening software innovation.  Sure, some overzealous open source advocates with IBM got in trouble a few years ago for spray-painting penguins on San Francisco sidewalks (to emphasize IBM’s commitment to Linux), and IBM annually spends millions of dollars in advertising, sometimes with clever and fashionable television commercials, but IBM has definitely not been in the same consumer awareness zone as Google, Facebook, or leading wiki service providers such as Socialtext.

With IBM Lotus Connections, a new offering unveiled at Lotusphere 2007, IBM aims to make social software more accessible to and relevant for business contexts.  More specifically, Connections will include:

1. Profiles, which are essentially web-centric directories, offering the ability to view organizational hierarchies, search for people with specific domain experience, and manage personal profiles.

2. Communities, e.g., to see who’s associated with a given project, or to view a tag cloud that highlights topics on which a given community is focused.

3. Blogs, building on the Java, open source Roller project.

4. Bookmarks, for personal and community tagging (also known as folksonomy, and popularized by services such as Digg, del.icio.us, and Flickr).

5. Activities, which represent a means of organizing and sharing different types of information (such as documents, web pages, instant message chat transcripts, and e-mail messages) in terms of the business context rather than the underlying tools and technologies.  An activity pertaining to a specific customer account, for example, could reference all information about historical interaction with and sales goals for that customer without requiring users to switch among tool types.

Connections is web-centric, with browser clients and an embedded WebSphere Application Server on the server side.  The activities service can use IBM DB2 or Oracle Database for storage.  Connections supports key related standards such as Atom for XML publishing and subscriptions, and makes it easy to create subscriptions in order to be notified of updates to profiles, communities, blogs, and activities of interest.  Connections is also designed to be used for both intranet and Internet scenarios, so organizations can use Connections to interact with their customers and business partners as well as building intra-company communities.

Unlike many open source and specialized software product offerings in related domains, Connections is designed for business contexts, offering directory, access control, and content management integration features.  These are critically important considerations for all organizations, especially large, publicly-traded enterprises that need to adhere to ever-expanding compliance regulations.

Connections grew out of internal IBM applications of related technologies, such as “BluePages” for profiles and “Dogear” for bookmarking.  Created by a mix of IBM CIO office and IBM Research developers, some of the services have been broadly leveraged within IBM for several years, suggesting they will scale to meet the needs of even the largest organizations.

Connections also has synergy with the more traditional IBM Lotus collaboration offerings.  Connections-related components can be used in the Notes 8 .0 and Sametime 7.5 clients, for example, or in conjunction with WebSphere Portal (browser or rich-client) user experiences.  Pricing and licenses details won’t be announced until IBM is closer to releasing Connections (expected within the next few months), but IBM clearly has big plans for Connections, and it’s reasonable to anticipate aggressive pricing/licensing terms.

In the Microsoft competition context, Connections and Quickr may compete with Microsoft Office Live, a hosted version of Windows SharePoint Services, small business-focused applications, and customer-specific versions of some Windows Live services (e.g., for e-mail).  IBM hasn’t announced any IBM-managed software-as-a-service plans for Connections or Quickr, however.   It’s also possible that Microsoft may seek to adapt some of its popular, consumer-oriented Windows Live services into an enterprise-focused offering, if IBM Lotus Connections is broadly successful.

IBM has done a very effective marketing/positioning choreography job with Connections.  Overall, rather than confusing its customers (and pleasing its competitors) as it did with Workplace, IBM has clearly and credibly articulated a compelling and comprehensive family of products for communication, collaboration, and content management, all exploiting open standards and platforms such as Eclipse.  With Connections, IBM also has the potential to leapfrog vendors such as Google that were, until recently, broadly expected to be winners in the enterprise by adapting their consumer-oriented communication/collaboration service offerings.

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