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IBM Lotus enhances its social networking tools

IBM added micro-blogging and file sharing to its Lotus Connections lineup of social networking tools as the company moves to expand its suite of collaboration software.

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The 2.5 version of Lotus Connections, which was first introduced in 2007, also adds a wiki service and expands mobile capabilities with support for Apple's iPhone and Nokia S60 devices. The support provides micro-browser access from those devices to Lotus Connections Profiles, Activities and Blog services.

IBM made the announcement at its Center for Social Software Symposium going on this week in Cambridge, Mass., on the one-year anniversary of the opening of IBM's Center for Social Software.

The company has been pushing its social networking tools as a way to trump Microsoft, which has been playing from behind in that arena. Earlier this year, IBM unveiled Lotus Live Connections, a hosted version of its social networking tools.

With 2.5, the major addition is micro-blogging features in Connections's Profiles service. The micro-blogging capabilities let users create a Twitter-like environment of status updates and conversations.

“We have been using it internally at IBM,” says Lotus GM Bob Picciano. “Especially at the end of the business quarter it is amazing how much value it is to me personally. I keep my finger on the pulse of the IBM organization, who is meeting with who and how those meetings go. It is like having a stream of conscience throughout the organization.”

The file-sharing service provides a repository for uploading and securely sharing content. Included with the service are tools for tagging, rating, recommending and commenting on the stored content.

With 2.5, IBM also has added the ability to customize the user interface of its Communities service and to add the new file sharing service to established communities. Discussion threads in communities are now presented as conversations with user photos. Also new are individual statistics on popularity and user contributions.

The new Wiki service has controls for creating, viewing, editing and contributing content to a wiki page that includes versioning capabilities.

The services and features are available via a Web browser or as plug-ins to the Notes 8 client. The services also integrate with Outlook, Exchange and SharePoint.

“There is not an answer from Microsoft for these capabilities,” said Picciano. He pointed to last week's announcement that U.S. Bank was replacing Microsoft's SharePoint platform by standardizing on the Notes 8.5 client and would roll out Connections, Sametime and Lotus Quickr, which is IBM's alternative to SharePoint.

Microsoft for its part is adding capabilities and features in its SharePoint platform either with its own technology or that produced by partners to address social networking needs for corporate users.

In addition to Connections, IBM also announced Mobile Enterprise Services for the Blackberry Enterprise Solution, a managed service to support the rollout of the RIM devices.

IBM Lotus Connections 2.5 is available now.

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