IBM Makeover Pursues Personalization In Revamped Site

The company used fundamental techniques for improving the navigation of what is sometimes viewed as an opaque, 3 million page site.
Behind these user recognition devices lie Ajax-based services. The site in its right hand column typically shows three or more topics of general interest to visitors called "spots," consisting of a graphic with a text teaser. Once you're recognized, an Ajax function consults your profile and pulls out a spot that is appropriate to your interests.

On the other hand, in the left hand column a list of related links will appear unsummoned as possible reference links, based on where you've gone on the site. If you show interest in IBM's x Series hardware, the left hand column might display storage subsystems that work with it.

IBM is toying with the possibility of letting the user define what links he'd like populated in that left-hand column. And it's thinking of adding services at the bottom of the page, such as email this page to an address, print this page, or send it to a wiki, blog or RSS feed.

What used to be proprietary content, such as technical support Red Books, is now "increasingly outbound. Customers are no longer willing to come to my sandbox to play. They want it in their own sandbox," said Dierdorff.

Dierdorff is experimenting with a three-dimensional virtual business center in second life. His avatar there is named, Dylan Young, and other IBM employees have volunteered time staffing the business center with their own avatars. They issue responses in near real time to visitors as questions arise.

It's too soon to say whether sales and service will one day occur in a three-dimensional, virtual environment but Dierdorff finds the prospect intriguing. "There's a lot to be learned from the three-dimensional game environment... It allows alternative engagements and delivery platforms. We're going to check it out," he said. At the Second Life business center, visitors may enter an IBM technical support library, pull a Red Book off the shelf and flip through pages.

IBM has been through the process of revamping its site once before. In 2004, it re-launched the site a one built with dynamic HTML instead of plain vanilla HTML, allowing it to build more user interaction into a page by including active elements powered by EcmaScript, a derivative of JavaScript. It was an Ajax predecessor and IBM capitalized on it early.