As mentioned in my previous post, Lotus Connections is due to receive a significant upgrade in the Summer. It addresses many of the serious functional gaps that have been present up until now (such as lack of wiki functionality) as well as some impressive innovations, especially in terms of mobile access.
Two major new pieces of functionality are wikis and file sharing. I was initially somewhat sceptical as IBM’s wiki offering in Quickr
is poor, but fortunately it seems to have little to do with the Connections wiki. A “wiki” in Connections is actually what would be called a “Space” or “Workspace” in Socialtext
, it is a set of pages with a hierarchical structure with parent and child pages for you to share and collaboratively work on content. Changes can be tracked and contrasted, and the pages are ‘objects’ within Connections which can be tagged, commented and rated. Similarly, files can be uploaded and shared, allowing you to point people to Connections rather than having to email attachments.
A welcome feature is that as well as being standalone components, both files and wikis can be placed into Communities. In fact, almost any Connections component can be embedded into a Community, making a Community almost a sub-set of a Connections instance, with its own homepage, widgets, wikis, files, blogs, forums, activities, feeds and bookmarks (and, of course, people) as well as custom widgets. The link goes both ways, for example if a Community had a blog which you discovered independently, there is a link to the community from the blog, where you would be introduced to the Community and find all the other related resources. This represents a slight philosophical change of direction from Connections 2.0, which was 100% person-centric. Connections 2.5 feels just as Community focused as it does Profile focused. This seems to move Connections more towards Jive Clearspace’s
approach, which (given its forums background) has Groups at the heart of what it does.
Connections 2.5 also introduces an Updates homepage, very similar to Facebook’s
News Feed. There are useful enterprise features, such as the ability to follow tags, a colleague who may not want to follow you (such as a CEO) and some implicit filtering to show you updates to blogs or wikis to which you have contributed. Twitter/Facebook type statuses have also been added.
A big win for Connections is in its mobile access. Clearspace has email-in as the mechanism to contribute to Clearspace on the move, and Socailtext has this feature as well as a lightweight mobile version of the wiki which is somewhat uninspiring (and does not include any of the people-related social features). Connections is looking to provide customised web interfaces for the smartphones (including the iPhone) and RIM
is developing a Blackberry Connections application so that someone on the road can quickly find the person they need to talk to to ask a customer question – even if they initially aren’t sure who that person is. iPhone/Blackberry users will find Connections 2.5 by far the easiest enterprise social software platform for use on-the-go.
One of the potential problems for Connections is areas of overlap with other areas of IBM Software. If I want to share a file, should I use Lotus Quickr or Files in Lotus Connections? Should my wikis sit in Quickr or Connections? What if I still use Domino.Doc
? Organisations need to think very carefully about the use cases they are looking to support, and making it clear to people which tool should be used for which purpose (Headshift
, of course, would be happy to help with this).
IBM Connections has always been a fascinating product, in that it is the only social software platform available from a “traditional”, conservative, IT provider worth considering. Its competitors (Clearspace, Socialtext) etc. are more what you would expect from a social software vendor, smaller, nimbler, more quirky, and focusing exclusively on social software.
Here lies a final area of concern – timing. Connections 2.5 is currently set for “Summer”, and some organisations would not consider deploying until the first fixpack has been released. Clearspace already offers support similar to wikis and files, and Socialtext Signals is ahead of what Connections 2.5 will offer in terms of status updates. IBM has a track record, however, of catching up and eventually passing the competition (as per its WebSphere Application Server and Portal products), and if you want the re-assurance that the IBM badge brings, and especially if you are looking for mobile support, Connections 2.5 is definitely for you. I’m particularly interested to see what new use cases emerge out of blogs, wikis etc. sitting stand-alone as well as being embedded within a Community, and how one helps the adoption of the other.
If anyone is looking to get started with Connections (either with the current version or a beta of 2.5) please get in touch with us at Headshift
. We’d love to take a closer look at how it could help your business.