IBM giving away social networking

The IBM Symphony tools the company is now giving users free is aimed at nothing less than jump-starting a social revolution in the workplace.

Alan Lepofsky of IBM Lotus
The IBM Symphony tools the company is now giving users free is aimed at nothing less than jump-starting a social revolution in the workplace.

I spoke with Alan Lepofsky (right), a member of the IBM Lotus strategy team, and our discussion quickly turned toward the changes in business process that begin with having social networking on every desktop.

"Moving from a document centered world to a community centered one involves not just technology, but a gigantic cultural shift," he said. Almost as an unannounced demonstration, a follow-up question about license terms got me a call from him within five minutes.

The best answer he could give me even then was somewhat unclear.

"The IBM version is free, and with that comes support from IBM, the ability to upload and share templates, but it’s not an open source version. It’s called the IBM License for non-warranted products. DB2 has a Community Edition under the same license.

"The license is IBM proprietary, in that it’s not an industry standard agreement." But it's not, so far as Lepofsky knew when we talked, the IBM Public License, approved by the OSI last year.

Still, the ability to bring social networking in-house, and free, could be as powerful as the open source movement itself, Lepofsky said.

"The most used application in our social networking world is the directory – see their picture, pronounce their last name, learn who their manager is. It’s a killer application. If you extend that to your partners and key customers," he said.

"One of the most important things we talk to our customers about is this isn’t just an on-switch. You don’t just buy the software and install it. You have to take a gradual approach, take a business need.

"The most common is better communication with your own customers, breaking down barriers with your own customers. Simple things like getting information about products. Right now you have an account team, you talk to them and we filter it up. With blogs and wikis and community sites, we find these to be great first steps in breaking down those barriers."

Once you become famliar with the value of the tools when used with key outsiders, you can start bringing the directory inside, he said. A second demonstration of the power -- I misspelled Lepofsky's last name in my notes,, then was able to double-check it after the interview through his blog.

But whether all this will become open source is still up in the air. I hope that it does.

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