Lotus takes aim at blogs, wikis and feeds

IBM/Lotus plans to expand its corporate collaboration tools by adding social relationship, behavior mapping and alerting technology that lets users easily share ideas, data, research and corporate knowledge.

Users are hoping that the tools can help revolutionize the way their organizations communicate, share the data they generate and collect, as well as, analyze information and work patterns to help refine and improve collaboration and its results.

At its annual Lotusphere conference, IBM/Lotus showed off plans to infuse its entire collaborative software lineup with so-called social networking technology such as blogs, wikis and syndication feeds. While those tools are changing the face of the Internet today, Lotus is adapting their concepts and features for internal corporate use in much the same way instant messaging was adapted for real-time communication that now includes voice and video.

IBM/Lotus is developing a number of social networking plug-ins to enhance Sametime 7.5 (expected to ship mid-year) so users can track down experts, conduct polls, create instant discussion forums and build searchable question-and-answer archives. The delivery timetable for the plug-ins has not been set.

The plug-ins, however, are just the first efforts of a plan to build components and hosted services that will plug social network capabilities into the core of not only Sametime but also Notes/Domino and WebSphere Portal. The company is using its Workplace Managed Client technology, which is common across those three platforms, to ensure those components work in all three products.

IBM/Lotus also has nearly a dozen research projects, including a handful poised to become products, for mining, cataloging and searching everyday work and sharing it with others.

On its alphaWorks emerging technology site, IBM/Lotus has made a blog tool available and will release it as a product later this year for Workplace Collaboration Services 2.6, a set of server-based collaboration tools expected to ship this fall. IBM/Lotus also is working on a similar wiki tool in its labs but has not announced plans of when that becomes a product.

In addition, the company is planning to support RSS and Atom syndication feed technology across its product line including Domino Web Access, QuickPlace, WebSphere Content Manager, Portal Document Manager and forms-based technology. The feeds also are being tapped for publish and subscribe capabilities, machine-to-machine date transfer and tracking collaborative activity.

"A lot of what we are doing now is figuring out where this all fits in. These things are not replacements for what we already have," says Duncan Mewherter, development manager for blogs, wikis and feeds at IBM Research. Instead, he describes them as a light layer of collaboration.

For example, IBM Research's Dogear project is a centralized server where users can store, catalog and share bookmarks. It can be integrated with Google so when users do a search they get Google results from the Web and Dogear results from internal sites. The bookmarks are associated with users and ranked based on how many users have stored them and how often they are hit. A companion application called Fringe does similar organization and ranking around documents.

"I am telling them Dogear should be productized now," says Mike Gotta, an analyst with the Burton Group. "Dogear is people by their behavior telling you what is important. The industry has done certain software wrong because it is not designed around people's activities and I think this will cause a redesign of some sharing tools."

Obviously, IBM and Microsoft think so too. Microsoft is adding syndication feed support to Office 12 and has developed a wiki template for SharePoint. The Social Computing Group at Microsoft Research is working on a project called Raindrop for group blogging and another called Wallop, which is exploring how people share media and build conversations within social networks.

IBM/Lotus users say they can already see social networking changing the landscape.

"All of this next level of technology does not have the complex user interface that desktop applications have had," says Alan Bell, principal consultant for Dominux Consulting. "This is technology for everyone."

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