IBM Tackles Social Networking With Atlas

December 19, 2007 0

IBM’s Atlas tools provide search and analysis for the Lotus Connections enterprise social networking suite…

“IBM is jumping into social networking, but instead of newsfeeds, customized apps and top friends, Big Blue is going the geek route with charts and visualization tools that demonstrate how connected users are to other people on their network…”

IBM on Tuesday announced the availability of a new social networking visualization and analysis tool called “Atlas” to Lotus Connections, the company’s social software suite for large enterprises that packages together technologies such as blogs, bookmarks and profiles.

“Atlas looks at the data within Connections and does some visualizations of the information,” said Chris Lamb, senior product manager. “The main point is that it is a way to visualize the social data from a line-of-business perspective and a personal level.”

IBM hopes Atlas will help users map their relationships with other employees using Connections, but analysts wonder if overall social network adoption needs to improve first before Atlas will become useful.

IBM’s Atlas for Lotus Connections will allow users to identify key experts in a company on specific topics, see how those people are connected and allow employees to seek new contacts through those they have already connected to in the Lotus Connections social networks, IBM said.

“Atlas is designed to work with Lotus Connections, a set of tools to build social networks that IBM launched in June.”

“As you start expanding your professional network across the organization, there is a lot of value in providing visualization for it to help users find more people,” says Lamb. “A good way to realize that value is to visualize it.”

The software not only identifies who’s who in the community, but also shows users how those people are connected to one another.

For example, a manager could use visualization to get a better view of the skills of employees, and a salesperson could use Atlas to quickly identify colleagues in a different division whose expertise or contacts could be useful for working with a customer.

Lamb says one of the primary tools within Atlas behaves much like a social map you would see on the consumer social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn, where the user can see the degrees of separation between himself and another colleague who might be working on relevant projects.

Ideally, after the user examines Atlas, they can seek out those relevant people and collaborate with them. It provides a contextual framework for seeking out new contacts and relationships down the road.

“When you apply social software to business processes, the ability to see and understand the relationships between groups, people and information is critical,” Jeff Schick, vice president of social software for IBM Lotus, said in a prepared release.

“Atlas helps workers navigate their social networks and use these relationships to rally around ideas and projects instead of organizational charts, helps decision making speedy and improves efficiency.”

In June, IBM launched Lotus Connections, a software suite with a variety of Web 2.0 features that help users build and maintain social networks.

Altas has four components — My Net, Find, Reach and Net, — that help users identify the important connections and relationships between themselves and various groups and corporate networks.

The Net component provides a view of groups that have formed within an organization due to work on similar projects, IBM said. Ideally, a salesperson would then have something of a social blueprint to work from to make sure he or she has connections across the topic areas and groups needed to close sales deals. The point is to help users find ways to improve communications among various nodes throughout the company.

“My Net provides a similar view but focuses on a user’s personal network.”

Atlas also includes Reach, a dashboard-like tool that helps users “navigate the six degrees of separation that divide them from a colleague,” as an IBM statement describes.

This social software dashboard shows users the shortest path to reach an expert and ranks the experts based on their level of interaction across the network. Knowing that your colleague is associated with an “expert” in a particular topic area, you can then seek out others who are directly or indirectly connected to the expert and start building new relationships.

The last component is Find, which takes social networking searches beyond the corporate directory to include results from other Web 2.0 sites like — MySpace, Friendster, blogs, etc. — to expand a user’s social universe.

Search criteria can be customized to a specific location, corporate structure of degrees of separation from yourself or one of your contacts. It also allows users to drill down and refine searches to specific skill sets, projects and geographical locations.

“Atlas and Lotus Connections fit into an ambitious push by IBM around social collaboration in enterprises.”

“What IBM is beginning to deliver with Atlas is a way to deliver these capabilities consistently across multiple application contexts,” Mike Gotta, a Burton Group analyst, wrote in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

“In and of itself, this does not really change business. It does, however, allow people interested in deploying Connections to show end-user value since it has end users that will find Atlas a means to improve their social productivity.”

Oliver Young, a Forrester analyst who researches Web 2.0 in the enterprise, says Atlas could have real business value for connecting employees in disparate departments.

He adds that the tool will further distinguish Connections from consumer social networks. “While consumer social mapping clearly piques a lot of users’ interest, there is really nothing mission critical about it,” he says. “In a business, these sorts of relationships, information flows and bottle necks can result in a gain or a loss of major efficiencies.”

But Young says the adoption of social networks within large enterprises has been sluggish, perhaps making the addition of Atlas, for the moment, a moot point. “Few firms have implemented a large scale social network like Lotus Connections,” he says.

A growing number of people use multiple networks and would like to easily move their profile data between them. Without providing specifics, Lamb said IBM is moving to address the problem.

“That is something that we are looking at, how we aggregate that,” he said. “There will be some announcements around the Lotusphere time frame.” Lotusphere is scheduled for Jan. 20-24 in Orlando, Florida.

IBM has been testing Atlas in-house for about a year, said Chris Lamb, senior product manager, social software at IBM. It is initially being targeted for individual company use, though that could expand to individual use at a later time.

Connections — which include a bookmarking, blog, profile, communities and activities feature — is priced at $110 per user. IBM would not comment on how many companies have signed up for Connections.

IBM is selling Atlas through its Software Services for Lotus group. Lamb declined to provide specific pricing information.