IBM validates enterprise social computing

IBM recently announced the introduction of the first suite of social networking applications for the enterprise, thus validating the usefulness and applicability of social applications. When, I had first blogged about the implications of social networking and a set of Web 2.0 trends including blogs, wikis, tags, activity tracking, social directories, etc. in February 2006, the "social networking for enterprise" space was marked by a few emerging enterprises like Zimbra, SocialText and JotSpot. 

We had read about Microsoft’s Knowledge Network and IBM’s forray into enterprise social networking through Dogear. Today at Lotusphere, IBM’s VP of Social Software Business Unit, Jeff Schick announced an enterprise suite of social software that will include the following five applications:

  1. Profiles: A list of profiles of all employees within an enterprise, which will be entered by the employees themselves. The profiles will include tags that indicate subject matter expertise and interests of every employee and empower employees to easily search and network with other employees.
  2. Communities: IBM claims to have designed some concepts of community 2.0, with appropriate tagging and social aspects embedded in the user interface.
  3. Blogs: Corporate blogs and basic blog templates will be included by default in Lotus Connections. This is in addition to the basic blog templates that are/will be available with Lotus Notes 8.
  4. Bookmarks: This is the product version of the popular "Dogear" project from IBM research, which developed an enterprise version of del.icio.us and enabled corporate employees to create and share bookmarks in a social fasion.
  5. Activities: IBM’s notion of activity-centered computing is fueled by adding tags to a knowledge worker’s tasks and sharing them.

The compelling aspect of Lotus Connections is the "suite" aspect, which enables end to end productivity scenarios by using all five aspects in an integrated manner. Tags or user-generated meta data is the glue that connects every application, leading to easier information sharing.

Although the above description is the "messaging" from IBM and I haven’t personally validated their usability, the notion of delivering personal value to the knowledge worker by enabling end to end scenarios and thereby creating self-evolving social networks is a believable notion.

I see the following risks for applying social software in the enterprise space:

  1. Architecture for participation:

An enterprise user or a knowledge worker may not contribute to the applications, for the same reasons that motivate consumers to contribute to personal social networks like MySpace, Orkut or Facebook. The architecture of participation in the enterprise social networks need to be fueled with appropriate incentives for participation.

  1. Scale:

Restricted social networks that are limited to a particular enterprise may not deliver "real" value to their users, as seen in the consumer world. While MySpace may boast hundreds of thousands of users, very few enterprises will have more than fifty thousand users. It will be interesting to see the impact of social networks when a ceiling is placed on its size.

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