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Lotus Connections (formally "Project Ventura")

Back in December I posted an excited entry about IBM’s Lotus Connections (then named “Project Ventura”) after sitting through an intro during the Software Group’s Analyst Summit. I’d come to the room late, so hadn’t heard that the session was embargo’ed until Lotusphere, and went ahead and posted it. IBM AR sent me a kindly worded note asking me to take it down, which I immediately did, being terribly embarrassed at having missed that critical point about embargo.

Needless to say I now have an over-developed sense for what should be under embargo. As people who brief me will tell you, I ask all the time even when it’s obvious.

First Impressions from Dec., 2006

That confession out of the way, here’s what I originally posted back then, with some slight edits to update names:

While seeing CMDB’s auto-filled is thrilling, the most exciting thing I’ve seen at the event is IBM’s “Ventura” project. I saw part of it in the labs session I went to yesterday, but one of the other sessions yesterday — labeled something like Web 2.0 and/or Social Computing — was the full-bore overview of IBM’s upcoming offering around blogs, social bookmarking/tagging, social networking, and the layers of combination above all of those.

[Lotus Connections]

While you can’t get it from IBM just yet, [Lotus Connections] is the productized suite of several “Web 2.0” technologies, like:

  • Profiles [IBM’s BluePages] – an end-user oriented directory for storing and looking through people profiles
  • Dogear – IBM’s social bookmarking app.
  • Activities – a to do list with, of course, much more that just bullet points with things to do.
  • Communities – the “groups” part of the application.
  • Blogs [Roller] – for blogging. One question is how much IBM’s extended roller vs. used it out of the box. As ever, Sun should be asking themselves why IBM’s the one who’s figuring out selling roller “first.” [Steve further drives this point home in his first post on Connections.]
  • Lots of glue – things like search (which I need to get more details on), integration with SameTime and otherwise making all the components feel more like a suite rather than just separate things. And, of course, enterprisey things like directory integration and security. And, of course, feeds on everything.

One thing missing, as Carol Jones pointed out, is a wiki. The word is they’re still deciding on one to use, with the clarification that IBM’s QEDWiki is more about wiki as an application platform (a la jotSpot) than wiki as a document/text collaboration tool.

Another missing item, which I asked about, was a feed reader (or “aggregator”). With all the feeds around, it’s a bit odd that [Lotus Connections] doesn’t have a feed reader to use out of the box: whether it’s from IBM or an endorsed reader from someone else. I’ve always liked the NewsGator stories along these lines of pre-populating and updating people’s feeds per their role. Having a feed reader would help tie all of Venture together even more so. That said, I get the feeling that Lotus looks more towards SameTime as the focal point for everything…which may not be too bad: it’s not your father’s IM “client.”

Writing this up, I realize that I’ve given [Lotus Connections] on a pass on being open rather than closed. If I was writing up SharePoint, for example, I’d have looked much more critically at the open question. So, we’ll have to see on that point for [Lotus Connections]. That said, Carol showed us that for most (all?) of the pages that you can click on a link at the bottom that shows you the REST call/API to get for the page. Here comment was something along the lines of “whatever we can do, you can do.”

Lunch is calling, so I’m cutting myself off here. The summary is that [Lotus Connections] is something to be excited about: once delivered, we’ll have to check back with it to see if it’s an implementation of the “bring Web 2.0 behind-the-firewall” vision I’ve been waiting on for sometime.

Here are the notes:


Updated Thoughts

Host It

The biggest opportunity for Lotus Connections is an easy to sign-up-for and scale hosted offering for Lotus Connections. While much of the motivation behind Connections is seemingly the opposite of that — having it all behind your firewall for security, compliance, and other integrations with corporate IT — the SMB market is typically more than willing to have their data in the cloud if that data is locked behind authentication.

Of course, for IBM, doing SaaS is always a tricky option as it could make their partners jittery: too much disintermediation. Now, that said, as Ric pointed out for another product line in IBM, why not let partners host it?

User-driven IT

Key to this SaaS point is a tangential thought from a channel comment Stu Mac makes about Lotus Connections:

IBM needs to market to new channels of communications to its end users. The demand for Connections is far more likely to come from end users than from IT. Therefore, I think that buzz needs to be created with Podcasters, Video blogs and so on. In facts this morning I have emailed Leo to suggest that this gets mentioned on TWiT this week.

Requiring “users” to procure, provision, and install servers will be a non-starter for that type of adoption. While encouraging users instead of IT to buy technology might be too user-centric for corporate IT, it certainly was a profitable model for things like, say, spread sheets and PCs ;>

As the old joke goes:

User Rick: How can you uninstall my software? On what grounds?
IT Manager Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that users are installing their own software behind-the-firewall!
Software Update Agent: Your Yahoo! client has a new update, sir.
IT Manager Renault: Oh, thank you very much.

(A hedge on offering a completely hosted option is to look towards the low, low barriers to entry for IBM OmniFind Yahoo! Edition. Still, a hosted option that scales from small shops to huge shops would be nicer.)

Culture Wet-ware

Stowe Boyd has some good, cautionary thoughts about Lotus Connections vis-a-ve group/role driven architectures vs. individual-driven architectures. To me, the larger point is: much of the success of Lotus Connections and other “Enterprise 2.0” suits depend on cultural changes and/or adaptations in the enterprise.

The flip side is that critics will attack the general ideas on that weak point from multiple dimensions:

  • You nerds love this stuff, but the normal worker could give a damn. They’ll still use email and IM. Cut-n-paste and Word will rule. You can’t force people to go 2.0.
  • As a dichotomic pivot on the first point: people will realize that they can just use the public web to do all this. Culture will change, but out of the control of IBM & Co. So, while the idea is good, the offerings from IBM and any other “elder company” will fall flat.
  • Having all of this stuff locked up behind-the-firewall or a secure cloud will take away the benefits we see on the web. Part of this concern is one of scale: will this “work” for 100 people instead of the 1,000’s who use public web services? Steve addresses this point well in his second Q&A on the Connections.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Lotus Connections has those problems. Rather, since a large part of the success of Connections and other Enterprise 2.0 offerings depends on culture rather than technology, those sorts of traps are ready to spring. Unlike straight up technology, cultural change in IT is a tricker affair.

Back at the IBM SWG analyst summit, we urged IBM to take the culture issue by the lapels and ramp up with training and outbound communication about the actual adoption and day-to-day use of Lotus Connections. More so than IBM’s other software offerings, but very much like the rest of the Lotus portfolio, something like Lotus Connections requires a lot of wet-ware in addition to software.

As cold water on all that hand-wringing: the theory that the upcoming generation of workers will have “all this” figured out. To use one of Kathy Sierra‘s favorite anecdotal data point on the topic: her daughter obsessively updates her MySpace page. While I’m always suspicious of “adults” telling us what The Kids are going to be like when they enter the work-force, I think there’s a large degree of truth to how computer savvy we can expect the upcoming IT workforce to be. Russ Eckel has some additional commentary along these lines.

Possible Market Validation

As a side-note to non-IBM people, if Lotus Connections becomes successful, IBM will have validated the general perception of there being a market for Enterprise 2.0 products behind-the-firewall. That is, other people will have an easier time selling this type of software. As they say, you always need “The Other” when marketing.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the ideas of taking * 2.0 behind-the-firewall were bunk and then suddenly this week IBM un-bunked them. Nor am I discrediting the past and current efforts along those lines. Instead, I’m saying that the success of Lotus Connections will make previously skeptical customers less skeptical and easier to sell such software to. Less education would be needed in the sales-cycle.

On the other hand, if Lotus Connections doesn’t do well, it might be so much the harder for non-IBM folks to sell * 2.0 software to business.

Good luck to all!


Now, it’s my job to fret over things and poke them with a stick. That taken care of above, I want to make sure I fully communicate how cool I think Lotus Connections looks. The disclaimer rests in that last word: I haven’t used it myself or talked with people who have (and, of course, IBM is a client).

That said, as someone who’s been lusting to pull the benefits and applications of the public web behind-the-firewall for years, I feel like Lotus Connections is a fantastic go at that. Again, we’ll have to see how the sugar really tastes once it’s in the coffee: but from what I’ve seen and conversations that I’ve had, Lotus Connections is worth keeping a close eye on.


Indeed, it’s rare to see so many people commenting positively about an IBM announcement on the public web. Not that people usually comment negatively, just that there’s not usually the high quantity of interest you can see on Technorati and other places at the moment.

I don’t often openly praise company’s products, even from our clients, but in this case, I think a hearty “congratulations!” is in order.

Update: check out these screenshots and other captures.

Disclaimer: IBM is a client, as is Sun.

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Categories: Collaborative, Companies, Enterprise Software, Marketing, RSS, Social Software, The New Thing.

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7 Responses

  1. I love the image of you poking some funny-looking piece of goo with a stick… “what is it? will it hurt us? is it poisonous? how’d it get here anyway?” Kind of like a scene from the original Star Trek series.

  2. Two small things that make me skeptical:

    – Most IBM Enterprise products are nasty complex beasts when you actually get around to using them in an organization. See the crazy Websphere stack for an example.

    – Lotus? They have the absolute worst email client I’ve ever seen and it simply never seems to get better.

  3. Kids having it all together? Right on. My daughter (4) can already turn on her laptop (my old one passed on to her), start up a browser and her choose favorite games from favorites. Click before you can read. The future is bright and they will be very savvy.
    She still can’t fix the wireless though – she calls tech support (Dad) for that.


  4. Ed: Indeed. Those things will only be fully addressed after everyone can "poke" at Connections. Interestingly, the fact that they're different products than Notes and Workplace might help there. I say "interestingly" because dividing up the portfolio further by adding in Connections and Quickr (and, in a way, the SameTime universe) seems a bit troubling long term to me. That said, IBM is of such a scale that it might be able to pull it of…hmmm…this deserves a post.
    Nigel: your daughter has her own laptop? Man! That's awesome. I'll have to remember that. What type of laptop is it? If it's not too personal, you outta write-up a post on "family IT for The Kids." For example, do kids need a ToughBook, or do they treat laptops and computers with enough care?

Continuing the Discussion

  1. […] RedMonk tends to agitate for IBM to hurry up and gets its new social software out from behind the firewall, which its finally doing as per our recent Lotus coverage here, here, and here. But there is another way of looking at this, which James Snell talks to. Its fashionable for the blogerati to laugh at “enterprisey” but funnily enough most enterprises don’t. IBM seems to have a lead over its enterprise competitors, including Microsoft (Sharepoint is not the answer to all social software questions, as Burton Group and RedMonk agree), for the simple reason that IBM’s social software project was so big, and so managed (in terms of audit trails, identity, directory expertise management and so on. IBM’s social software is about managed, rather than unmanaged spaces, and that makes it powerful). I still don’t know why Sun doesn’t want to make money from Roller, but if IBM want to wear the t-shirt… This is from snellspace. Today IBM has what may very well be the largest corporate social networking environment in the world. We don’t know that for sure because there’s not a lot of great information out there about how many folks are actually using these technologies within the firewall. Here are some numbers: Our BlogCentral environment supports 25k+ registered users with over 3k+ “active” blogs. There are over 100k posts and comments with over 10k+ unique tags. Our dogear server has over 200k+ distinct bookmarks to resources both inside and outside the firewall and is generally more reliable at providing quick access to important resources than our Intranet search servers. Our activities server has over 11k activities with 69k+ entries and has 35k+ registered users. Generally impressive statistics, especially if you consider that use of the blogs, bookmarks and activities servers is entirely optional and there is no corporate mandate that Thou Shalt Blog or Thou Shalt Bookmark. Instead, a small group of people heard about it and started using it; they told some others about it and they started using ti; then they told some others about it and they started using it… and it evolved from there. And it’s not just bookmarking, blogging, activities, and so on. We’re also podcasting, collaborating through wikis, tagging pretty much everything in sight, participating in internal “open source” projects, organizing “hackdays” and generally just having a lot of fun. Thing is, I’m not sure that anyone has really figured out a way of measuring the tangible impact the use of these technologies has on our bottom line. What we do know is that the employees who are making use of them have generally found them to be far more useful than anything that’s come before and that there is genuine excitement about the new tools. […]

  2. […] John is a smart guy, and in this post, Social Computing In The Enterprise, he briefly mentions what is going to be a key market over the next few years. It just doesn’t have a name yet. In describing IBM’s new enterprise social software (that last one’s a bonus link from Burton’s Mike Gotta) tooling John makes a comparison against the, MySpace and Flickrs of this world: It is easy to download the social tools, but with easy usually comes limited functionality or single purpose. For example, while you can share your links as many do publicly, the trends across a selected group(s) such as an organization are not trendable. Analysis of trends or the combination of information gathering within a company can help in identifying information and interests. […]

  3. […] On a more conservative note, there are still people using WordPerfect 5.1 for all their damn ^K combos. Word processors have been an incredibly generational piece of software, and I’m not sure that’s going to change. That means that The Kids may take to Google Apps and other Enterprise 2.0 applications quickly, but I suspect we’ll have to wait for a rash of retirement parties before there’s any chance of seeing any sort of exodus from Word and, even more so, Excel. See my comments on cultural wet-ware in the context of Lotus Connections for more discussion along these lines. […]