IBM is shipping upgrades this month to its Web 2.0-based social networking tools for business. The company is adding capabilities to its Lotus Connections tool to enhance profiling, data display and collaboration.

A related product, IBM Atlas for Lotus Connections 2.0, for data visualisation within a social network, is due later in the month. "Connections is a combination of five different services that allow you to discover expertise within your business so that you can get better results in your day-to-day work," said Chris Lamb, worldwide marketing manager for Lotus Connections at IBM.

These services include: profiling, to find people based on skill sets; bookmarking, to subscribe to websites as reference sources; a community service so people can learn from each other; blogging, for sharing information via a browser, REST, or Atom feeds; and activities, for managing tasks.

These features have been enhanced in version 2.0. Also, a home page shows snapshots of data, providing quick views of items, including related blog postings.

"When you launch a Connections home page, you can see all that information in widgets that are displayed on the home page," Lamb said.

Enhanced profiling in version 2.0 enables users to find persons and invite them to be colleagues. Information seen about a person can be customised. "People tagging" enables users to tag themselves or colleagues based on an area of expertise. Tag clouds displayed on a person's profile associate persons with areas of expertise. Discussion forums have been added as well as integration with the Social Text and Atlassian Wiki services for collaborative editing of content.

Connections helps with collaboration when email does not suffice, said Kathleen Reidy, senior analyst with The 451 Group.

"Lotus Connections 2.0 pulls the product together quite a bit more than it was in the 1.0 version," Reidy said. "Lotus Connections is really a set of services that can be deployed together or individually. With 2.0, deploying them together makes more sense to end-users as there's a personalised start page and a better concept of communities that incorporate multiple services."

Atlas 2.0 provides visualisation of data in a social network. It supports the addition of such data as community memberships and blogging activity.

"Atlas is very interesting visualisation technology for Lotus Connections so individuals can graphically view their social networks, and managers and HR folks can get a view into areas of knowledge across groups. I think this sort of technology is very cool to play around with, though it is unproven at this point," Reidy said.

IBM will have to take on Microsoft's SharePoint platform with Connections, Reidy said. Companies already using SharePoint may be less inclined to go with a separate product from IBM even if Big Blue offers some capabilities SharePoint lacks, she said.

IBM has had a quick uptake on Connections, calling the first version the company's fastest-growing software product. It has attracted 300 customers in less than a year, including the Federal Aviation Administration, Deutsche Bank, and Dutch Railways, the company said.

Connections 2.0, which is server-based, runs with the IBM WebSphere application server, which is bundled with Connections 2.0. A relational data store also is required such as IBM DB2, which ships with the product, or another database such as Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server.

Atlas is services-based offering with varied pricing.

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