A few months ago, a Stanford professor wanted to learn about New York headhunters. Using a new online collaboration tool, he hooked up with an investment banker who had just the information he was seeking. David Gilmour, CEO of Tacit Software, cites this example as one of many ways his company's tool can help people find answers to hard questions.
Illumio, a piece of software now in test mode, combines search and social networking to help users connect with people who can answer their questions. It will formally launch this fall.
Illumio scours the desktops of users' business associates, friends, and others who join the network to determine if they have the information users want. Instead of blasting requests to thousands of people, Illumio uses what it finds searching desktops to send requests only to people most likely to be able to answer questions.
For example, if a user sends a request that asks, "Does anyone know Jane Doe at Acme Corp.?" Illumio looks through E-mails, documents, and Web-browsing histories of people on the user's network. If it finds one person who has sent or received several E-mails from Jane Doe, he is most likely the best connection, and Illumio then asks him if he wants to reply to the person who made the query.
An enterprise version, called ActiveNet, is being used internally at large companies to help employees connect with each other.