IBM launches social networking services

With two major new products and a raft of announcements aimed at the collaboration market, IBM unveils its 'biggest product launch in years' at Lotusphere

IBM is pushing its Web 2.0 credentials at its annual Lotusphere customer conference in Florida, which is taking place this week.

On Monday, IBM tried to grow its presence in the collaborative software market by announcing a series of new and extensively revised products, including its first product aimed at the field of social networking.

This is an area where young, innovative companies have seized the initiative in recent years, but IBM may be able to play a major role in driving such tools into the enterprise space — especially with record crowds of over 7,000 people attending this year's Lotusphere 2007.

Five product announcements took place at Lotusphere on Monday, including the launch of Lotus Connections, the company's new social networking product.

Lotus Connections was billed by the head of IBM Lotus, general manager Mike Rhodin, as "the first business-ready social-networking application".

Rhodin explained that Connections offers the same features as other social-networking applications, allowing people and organisations to bring together contacts, web information and other utilities seamlessly into a collaborative environment but with an eye for use by businesses.

This type of software is already catching on quickly with companies as they try to build easy-to-use environments that allow colleagues to reach and communicate with a wide range of people across their organisation.

According to Rhodin, IBM has been working for the last eight years on Connections, which is due to be launched in the second quarter of 2007.

Lotus Connections has five applications: profiles, where employees can post information about their expertise and interests; communities, which are created and managed by people with common interests; activities, where group projects are managed; bookmarks, where people share documents and websites with others; and blogs, where people post ongoing commentaries.

These five components should help users to find the details of people they need to work with on a project, and then allow them to set up a working template of ideas and suggestions for moving the project forward.

Quickr, the second new IBM application launched on Monday, is a collaborative application for sharing content from different sources. Features include the ability to move content, such as emails, to shared libraries. This could cut down on the number of emails that repeat content for multiple recipients, wasting space and resources in the process.

The software also works with Lotus Sametime, IBM's corporate instant messaging service.

There is also a connector for Windows Explorer and Microsoft's My Documents address, so Microsoft and Lotus environments can more easily exchange information.

These two major announcements, together with a number of revised products, including wide-ranging changes to the upcoming Lotus Domino Version 8 and Notes Version 8, add up to "the biggest product launch in years", according to Rhodin.

The next major version of IBM's Notes client software, code-named Hannover, will be available by the middle of this year, with a public beta coming out next month.

CNET News.com's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.

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