Computer-industry giant IBM announced at the Interop conference in New York on Wednesday that it is has established the IBM Center for Social Software (CSS) in Cambridge, Mass. The new facility is part of the company’s ongoing Tomorrow at Work program, an initiative IBM says is designed to “anticipate what the next work world will bring — and prepare for it today.”
Irene Greif, an IBM fellow and the inaugural director of the CSS, said the new facility “is a channel for the social-computing community and our customers to collaborate on the most innovative social technologies being developed today.”
“We view the center,” Greif added, “as a magnet for the top social-computing scientists around the world to visit, share work, and innovate.”
Business and Academic Partnerships
According to the CSS Web site, a primary focus will be on “gathering, analyzing and publishing data on adoption rates and the value of social software to business.”
Two companies, Dow Jones and the health-care division of Thomson Reuters, have announced that they will be the first to participate in the CSS’s corporate residency program. Company representatives will collaborate with IBM researchers from around the world who come to CSS to work on specific social-networking projects.
The goal, Greif said on the Web site, is to “use rapid, large-scale deployments and social-science research to understand the kind of viral adoption common in today’s nonbusiness social software and apply it to create Web 2.0 implementations that are ‘fit for business.’”
In addition to working with the corporate world, CSS will also reach out to academics. Cambridge is popular with technology and biotechnology companies due to the presence of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.
Social Networking in the Workplace
One of the goals for CSS is to “work with forward-thinking businesses to pilot and customize enterprise social networks unique to their industry profile.” One question that IBM will have to grapple with is that many businesses today see social-networking applications as a threat to productivity, security and privacy.
Erica Topolski, a spokesperson for IBM Media Relations, said companies are increasingly interested in social-networking tools designed specifically for business.
“Social software has a host of benefits that come with the ability to form communities with people that share similar interests or experiences,” Topolski said. “Do a few conversations about nonwork topics take place? Of course, just like they do in the hallway at work. What we hear from customers and have experienced internally, however, is that these do not interfere with an employee’s ability to get their work done.”
IBM operates an internal social-networking program called Beehive that is based on the company’s Lotus Connections, a suite of five Web 2.0 products.
In addition to its interactive functions — which include personal Web pages, instant messaging, photo galleries, and “hive fives” (a brainstorming function) — the Beehive is also a research program for the company. Among the questions that IBM is examining is whether social-networking software makes it easier for people with common skills to connect on projects, or whether the additional social information on Beehive facilitates corporate teamwork.
Similar questions will be examined in-depth at CSS, as IBM works to develop metrics for evaluating the impact of social-networking software on business operations.