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For IBM, It's a Small Social Networking World

IBM on Tuesday announced the availability of Atlas for Lotus Connections, a visualization and analysis tool that helps employees sort through their social networks to find colleagues and key experts on specific topics and projects.

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, anyone who worked on a database software implementation for a large financial services customer. 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, helping speed decision making and improve 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 feature provides a visual indication of the important hubs among topic experts and informal groups that have developed while working on similar projects. 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.

Reach helps users navigate what IBM calls the "six degrees of separation" that divide them from a colleague or contact. 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 Find feature takes social networking searches beyond the corporate directory to include results from other Web 2.0 sites—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.

"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 doesn't really change business. It does, however, allow people interested in deploying Connections to show end-user value since it's end users that will find Atlas a means to improve their social productivity."

Atlas is now available for customers through IBM's Lotus software group. Pricing details were not disclosed.