IBM has another take on it. The company plans on Monday to announce a set of social software tools that will bring the kind of blogging, idea sharing and war-story swapping typically associated with MySpace and Facebook, the social-networking sites popular among teenagers and college students, to the corporate world.
Called Lotus Connections, the new software, expected later this year, will let employees set up virtual worlds in which they can meet like-minded colleagues within the company and exchange ideas with them, all in the name of improving productivity. And that's just for starters.
The idea, said IBM's vice president for social software, Jeff Schick, is to "unlock the latent expertise in an organization."
IBM plans to show the software in Orlando, Fla., at an annual conference for developers who work with the company's Lotus group, which produces Lotus Notes. An early leader in collaboration software, or "groupware," Lotus Notes has been under attack in recent years from Microsoft's Exchange software.
"Microsoft has been a tough challenge for the Lotus Group," said Erica Driver, an analyst with Forrester Research, a market analysis and consulting company. "Focusing on new technologies is a good approach."
Last week IBM reported that strong software sales helped lift the company's profits and revenue last quarter, slightly surpassing Wall Street's estimates. The performance provided some encouragement that IBM's push to revamp its software strategy, including projects like Connections, is gaining ground.
Many companies have already discovered the benefits of bringing social networking into their businesses, but so far most of the tools available to them have focused on a specific element of social networking, like blogging.
"I talk to corporate clients every day, and I'm finding the topic of social networking comes up all the time," Driver said. "What IBM has done validates the use of social computing tools for businesses."
Lotus Connections has five components--activities, communities, dogear (a bookmarking system), profiles and blogs--aimed at helping experts within a company connect and build new relationships based on their individual needs.
The profiles component, for example, lets users search for people by name, expertise or keyword. The program then not only provides contact information and reporting structure details, but also lists blogs, communities, activities and bookmarks associated with the person.
Inside IBM, employees have been using a prototype of the profiles feature for the last few years, and today 450,000 profiles of IBM employees are stored there.
IBM Research, the company's research arm, has long had an interest in social networking, and has several projects under way within Second Life, for example, the virtual world that allows people to communicate in a three-dimensional universe.