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Lotus leaps into social networking

But will it do Web 2.0 without Notes?

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IBM is the latest big company to jump onto the social networking bandwagon, via its Lotus subsidiary which has at last released its much-hyped information-sharing and community-building software, Lotus Connections.

The whole thing sounds awfully like what Lotus Notes and SameTime were already supposed to be doing for us, but IBM reckons that not only does Lotus Connections pick up on the new Web 2.0 ways of sharing and managing knowledge, exemplified by consumer social networking tools such as MySpace, FaceBook et al, but unlike them it is business-grade software.

Connections features five components - as well as activities, communities and blogs, these cover profiles and shared bookmarking. IBM said its own staff have been testing and using the software for several months, for example using it to search through the profiles of its entire 340,000 workforce to locate colleagues with specific expertise.

It also side-steps the need to import documents into a separate store for sharing. Instead, the bookmarking tool, called Dogear, lets users add electronic tags to documents and Web pages and then share their bookmark lists.

"Dogear for me as an IBM employee has completely replaced my habit of Googling for answers," said Lotus strategist Alan Lepofsky. "Now I go to Dogear and get maybe 40, 50 or 100 links that have already been vetted by the subject experts in my company that I trust.

"We have a huge pipeline of customers asking for Web 2.0 functionality, but inside their own firewalls," he added. He said that Connections doesn't mandate Notes or SameTime, so could also be used alongside other email and IM software.

Does this mean that Notes & co are now redundant - collaborative dinosaurs, out-competed by the nimble mammals of Web 2.0?

Lepofsky claimed not, saying that Connections can be used with Notes and SameTime, for example to share email and chat transcripts with colleagues working on the same task or project. "We even used the collaboration tools to work on redeveloping the user interface for Notes 8," he said.

He argued that while Connections has "deep ties into what we can do with Notes and Domino," the two sets of tools do different things. For example, Connections cannot replace Notes and Domino as a way to build composite apps and workflows, he said.

The new software will go up against the latest version of Microsoft's collaboration software, SharePoint Server 2007, which includes a basic set of social networking technologies, such as blogs and wikis.®

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