Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Merging Social Networks: Not a Hard Task Anymore!

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Last week, I developed a Java tool to merge the social networks from internal research projects (e.g. BlueTwit, Beehive, and Fringe) into Lotus Connections using the Colleagues RESTful API. Credit goes mostly to Ansgar Schmidt for the idea and for the Fringe/BlueTwit code!.

Based on initial feedback, users love it and they are saving a LOT of time. What used to take hours, now only takes minutes. As a side benefit, it has helped people discover the new Lotus Connections v2.5. So tons of benefits all around!

One concern is the amount of email this tool generates. For each person you invite in Lotus Connections, an email is sent out to the invitee. That's good because if they weren't aware of the company's Enterprise 2.0 efforts, now they would be. Now based on the viral adoption that I saw inside IBM (over 100 downloads in the first 4.5 hrs) for this tool, this tool also has the potential to generate a lot of emails.

Anyway, this has caused a debate within IBM. How should invites work in a social network? And, specifically to Lotus Connections, do others really have to accept your invitation before you can add them to "your network" ? How should this work in internal social networks? I was talking to a colleague earlier today about this and we agreed that there are two types of networks:

  1. Your colleagues - People I Know and work with them on a frequent basis
  2. Following - People I Follow because I want to stay up to date on their activities and learn from them.

The first group could should be automatically determined by Atlas. Atlas always knows and keeps track of who you are actively working with. There shouldn't be any formal process to make someone your colleague. They just are and the system knows it.

The second group is asymmetric follow (a la Twitter). In this model I can follow someone but they don't have to approve my request (unless they have disabled public access of their timeline). In this case, I can add someone to my network and an email invite wouldn't have to be sent (unless configured by an admin or end-user in Connections).

Anyway, if you have any thoughts on how to improve the invite model for social networks, let me know. I also asked the question in Twitter so I'll be consolidating responses as we go along.

Also, question to non-IBMers. Would you like to use this tool to merge your own social networks into Lotus Connections? For example, bring in your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter networks into Lotus Connections ? Would love to hear some feedback on this.

photo credit: psd

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