Cooking Up a Social Networking Storm With IBM Labs

Cambridge, Mass. — IBM’s  demonstration of new collaboration software at an event here earlier this week is further proof the company is serious about dominating social networking for the enterprise.

Researchers wowed press and analysts with tools, upgrades and raw, experimental pieces of software spanning business intelligence, application integration, information sharing and other areas.

The tools are designed to compete with enterprise collaboration and social-networking software makers, including Oracle  and BEA Systems .

IBM Research Fellow Irene Greif demonstrated a data visualization and collaboration tool called ManyEyes, which could let employees share information via graphical representation.

This software, a kind of wiki on steroids, has the ability to amalgamate several data sets and render them graphically for users to view, update and share comments on.

Greif showed graphical comparisons between cars boasting the best city or highway mileage, as well as statistical breakdowns of the stats for players on the University of California Golden Bears women’s basketball team.

Alistair Rennie, vice president of development ad technical support for Lotus Software, hinted that IBM will ramp up the tool for production later this year, even though it is in alpha testing.

On the business-intelligence front, one demonstration included CRAFT, or Collaborative Reasoning for Business Intelligence. In the true spirit of BI, CRAFT correlates business information from several sources to support analysts’ decisions.

IBM researcher Daniel Greun illustrated how CRAFT can be used to pinpoint the cause of dips in customer accounts. Through a series of drag-and-drop maneuvers, Greun was able to compile a log of prior calls of customers who eventually canceled their accounts.

In doing so, he learned that most of them were being handled by a certain employee, suggesting the service representative was perhaps rude to customers. CRAFT, like most BI tools, is rendered as a dashboard with graphics and reports.

One particularly interesting IBM text-to-speech product tool, PodSmart, allows users to create personal podcasts from IBM Lotus Notes e-mail and calendar files and RSS feeds.

Workers can download these podcasts to their iPods or MP3 players, take them in their cars, and essentially have their e-mail, schedule or news feeds read to them via the MP3 player as they drive to work.

IBM researchers also demonstrated the IBM Lotus Notes application environment and Domino 8 application, which are still in development. The user experience for mail, calendaring and contacts has been retooled and can now launch Web browsers and the Open Document Format editors. Specifically, users can open Microsoft Office files and save them back as Office or ODF files.

As with Google’s Gmail e-mail application, e-mail exchanges can be grouped into threads as if they were on a message board, enabling users to use their inbox as a “to-do list.”

The goal is to reduce the flood of information and organize it for a better user experience. Lotus Notes and Domino 8 is in public beta now.

On the software development side, IBM researchers introduced Project Styx, which automates the build, test and deployment of projects for software programmers. The software can take a code build, drop it into a test server and automatically provision it.

The tool, in an early beta, is geared to solve the dilemma of developers losing as much as half of their testing time to manual configurations.

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