I learned more about Lotus at this presentation, as my firm is a Sharepoint shop.
The Lotus Connections Speaker was Suzanne Minnassian, IBM Lotus Connections Product Manager, IBM.
Lotus Connections lets companies set up communities that span the firewall, and are available through an external site. In her example (apparently drawn from real life), she hurts her ankle running on the Esplanade, and goes to the hospital web site looking for information about doctors who might be able to help. Through a standard search, she finds a sports medicine doctor. She sees more information about a doctor than just her contact data—she also sees a blog by the doctor that gets published inside & outside the firewall, gets access to doctor’s calendar to schedule an appointment [ I doubt that would ever happen! ], and sees what internal “communities” the doctor is involved with. If one of them is a “sports injury” community, she might be able to get advice on how to treat her injury in the short term from another patient.
Lotus provides much richer set of information for users inside the firewall.
Compared to Microsoft, it looks a lot more user-friendly and easy to adopt. Microsoft is stronger in having so many partners and applications developers that are willing to invest in integrating with Sharepoint.
Lotus has really built out a fully mature social networking and collaboration system. Suzanne noted that “the longer a social application is out there, the more data gets added to it” and it also looks like the longer a social collaboration system has been published and actively modified, the more and better features it has.
I totally ate up the rich use of social tags in Connections. For starters, bookmarks, in their “Dogear” system, apply to people, items such as blog entries, documents, and external web sites. In all environments, tags are links to what others have tagged with that word. Tags are directly integrated with search, such that documents tagged with the search term come up higher in the list. Furthermore, people who have been tagged or who have tagged using that word are displayed alongside, in case you’d rather call someone than look at a document. You can filter down search results by tags, with guided navigation, so that you can see which content has to do with “Liu” and “environment” after two clicks.
Suzanne noted that having your content “pre-filtered” by other users through tags has greatly enhanced search at companies that have adopted the system. Tags and combinations of tags generate RSS feeds as “watchlists” so users can monitor content additions containing particular terms.
Users have profiles, with a rich set of data pulled from their work, connection, and tagging activities. Allows people to establish formal “connections” with people (I wonder if this is mediated, i.e., if the person on the other end of the proposed connection has to agree to form the connection.) Each user also has an “iGoogle”-like landing page with a set of widgets that can be moved around, such as blog posts, tags, activity by other users, activity on tags, and so forth.
Lotus Connections also allows quick creation of “Communities.” They’ve learned that different groups organize around different types of activities, and so their communities have flexible features such as discussion boards, other live communication such as IM, wikis, shared bookmarks, and feed views.
A feed view is a list from an RSS feed that people can comment on and share with particular people. There are also “Activities” which constitute flexible project management spaces.
The one social piece missing is a feed reader, which Lotus still has in Beta (it’s called “Spectacular”.
Connections also has a very flashy-looking social networking analysis tool built in. You can view a person’s connections, in the form of icons that are closer to the main person’s icon the closer the relationship. Like ContactNetworks, strength of relationship is determined by mining email and IM. The strength can be filtered by date, division, or country. You can also search networks for a particular keyword, which shows clusters of people and lets you identify the key people who connect clusters of people. In the example Suzanne ran, she found the key IBM person working on, of course, “tagging.”