The press attending Lotusphere viewed some of the software currently in development at IBM's labs today, including two projects aimed at bringing social networks and virtual worlds into the enterprise.
Bluegrass is a virtual world for employees to bounce ideas off each other and talk about business, or just life in general. It reminded me of my chat with Sun Microsystems about MPK20, their internal virtual world hosted behind the firewall.
Steve Rohall and Li-Te Cheng, two of IBM researchers working on Bluegrass, told me that while they view virtual worlds as a great way to have meetings, they also want to use them to enable more serendipitous discussions between geographically dispersed employees. This has typically been the shortfall of existing technologies, such as audio conferencing – when the call ends, so does the social interaction.
By contrast, in a virtual world, an employee from Michigan could have an informal conversation after a meeting with a co-worker in California. As a result, by allowing workers to think more tangentially outside a formalized meeting, they can stumble upon new ideas. This project, to me, shows once again why virtual worlds are no fad.
Beehive looks like the business response to Facebook, or at least a good attempt at it. A completely separate development project from the profiling function in Connections, IBM’s social software suite, Beehive looks to further connect workers by sharing information about themselves, using photos, lists, and events. The interface appeared remarkably clean for a social network not developed in the consumer space. They also created features that encourage user engagement. The “My Top 5” serves as a good example, in which employees post five things that are important to them for their peers to see.
Beth Brownhotlz, who has been working on Beehive, told me 6,000 IBM employees currently use it.
While a demo is a demo, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Beehive usurp the profiling function of Connections, which analysts have told me hasn’t been utilized all that much by customers of the software.