IBM Plans to Join
By WILLIAM M. BULKELEY
January 22, 2007; Page B5
International Business Machines Corp. plans to sell social-networking software that works like Web sites such as Facebook but is safe enough for corporate use.
At a meeting of its Lotus software customers today, IBM expects to unveil a suite of software products called Lotus Connections that includes software for posting personal profiles, Web logs, or blogs, and lists of Web bookmarks and will allow for creating online communities and online work collaboration.
The Connections suite will compete with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows SharePoint Services, a five-year-old product with 85 million users that added social-networking features in its latest version, unveiled in November. Peter O’Kelly, research director for collaboration with Burton Group who was briefed on the product plan, said "this is going to start the next chapter of competition between IBM and Microsoft for the hearts of information workers."
Steven Mills, IBM’s senior vice president who heads the software group, said, "We’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well this has resonated with corporate buyers." He said many companies have seen employees start using free Web-based social-networking software because it makes it easy to share information with colleagues. He said, "businesses want something that’s reliable and recoverable" in case data are lost. In addition, many companies have legal requirements to archive everything written in connection with certain products and financial transactions.
In 1989, when it still was an independent company, Lotus helped turn personal computers into collaboration tools when it unveiled Notes. Versions of Notes remain popular today, especially in Europe and Japan.
The new social-networking tools use an Internet browser and don’t require programming installations on every PC in the network. IBM declined to provide pricing information or forecast sales. It said shipments will start in the first half of this year. Connections doesn’t contain brand-new functions. IBM "has made some effort to unify them," said Erica Driver, an analyst with Forrester Research who says corporate customers have "a very high level of interest" in social-networking capabilities.