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IBM's Web 2.0 Platform Mashes Up Business, Social

For anyone who's ever had to answer to a boss worried about company time being spent socializing instead of on business, IBM has come up with a simple answer: "Can't it be both?"

Today IBM unveiled its revamped Web 2.0 platform, a suite of collaborative services for enterprises to capitalize on the snowballing trends of online content and social networking.

Among the new products are Lotus Mashups, a mashup creator geared for businesses, and Lotus Connections 2.0, a revamped version of Big Blue's enterprise-oriented social networking software.

"We want to put the tools in the hands of people so they can do their job better," said Chris Lamb, product manager for IBM Lotus Connections.

The announcement is one of many coming this week from Orlando, Fl., where IBM is holding its annual Lotusphere convention.

IBM's plans for Lotus Mashups first surfaced in October. The application is designed with non-technical users in mind, so any employee would be able to build a mashup of company data and information pulled from the Web to help improve workflow.

For instance, a logistics coordinator could use Lotus Mashups to link real-time traffic data with delivery routes for outbound warehouse shipments.

Lotus Mashups will offer a browser-based navigation tool for point-and-click mashup creation. The product also will come with ready-made widgets for building new mashups, as well as a server-based catalog to serve as a hub for finding and sharing existing ones.

Additionally, Lotus Connections, which IBM introduced at last year's Lotusphere, is celebrating its first birthday with several new features.

Version 2.0 of the Connections software -- which is still in a pre-beta stage -- is designed to help professionals build and maintain their social networks through a variety of Web 2.0 features.

The new edition will feature a widget-based homepage that integrates Lotus Mashup technology to provide a customizable view of the five core features of Connections: profile directory, communities, blogs, the Dogear social bookmarking applications and the activities hub.

Lamb said that an administrator could create the default Connections homepage, and employees would be able to drag and drop widgets to customize it to their preferences.

The widgets could also tie into data from external social networks, such as the professional social networking site LinkedIn, which announced last month that it was opening its platform to select business partners.

IBM is also adding wikis, discussion forums and collaborative-editing features to the communities section of Lotus Connections.

The company plans to launch the beta version of Lotus Connections 2.0 in the first half of this year.

At Lotusphere, IBM also previewed the 8.1 version of Lotus Quickr, the collaborative-work application available on the Web or as a desktop plug-in.

The new version uses enhanced Web 2.0 applications to improve data sharing. It will include blogging applications, wikis, team discussion forums and shared content libraries.

IBM also plans to integrate Quickr with its Content Manager and FileNet P8 enterprise content management systems, it said.

Big Blue isn't alone in its mashup of the social and business worlds. Other enterprise-oriented companies, including Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, have all unveiled similar initiatives to court a workforce with the social value of technology.

Lamb said that when IBM first started developing social applications for business, many were skeptical.

Critics asked, "Is this a real market, can you make money at this?" Lamb said. "Lotus Connections is one of the fastest-growing products we've ever introduced."