Thursday, May 28, 2009

Teach For America Demonstrates IBM Social Software

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Gemini Systems, an IBM business partner, together with ISSL (IBM Software Services for Lotus) have been working with the Teach For America organization. Specifically, ISSL and Gemini have been helping Teach for America deploy an extranet portal with the Connections and Quickr capabilities very nicely integrated with each other.

One of the things that I really like about this particular demo is that you can't really tell what's Portal, what's Quickr, and what's Connections. As you know, I'm a big advocate for integration. I truly believe that the best route to success with social software is by embedding social software directly into existing applications and processes.

The demo site is divided into various categories:

  1. Teaching and Learning Center: How to avoid re-inventing the wheel by learning from your peers
  2. Career and Leadership Center: How to find professional development advice
  3. Regions and Communities: Get connected with staff, alumni, and corp members
  4. Giving and Volunteering: Easily find giving and volunteering activities

To view the demo, check out Teach For America's tour.

Note: updated on 10/Jun/09 to include reference to ISSL.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Free Puerto Rico Leadership Forum

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In two weeks, I'm going to be presenting at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico at IBM's Free City Tour of Building a Smarter Planet. The event takes place on June 9th and is open to the public. Here are the details for the event:



My session is called "Smarter Work: Collaboration Approaches for a Connected World". I'll be talking about how to embed collaboration and social software into existing processes to improve efficiency, and reduce costs from by improving productivity in the workplace.

If you want to register for this FREE event, sign up here before June 1st. See you there!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Time to get back to business!

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I just got back from a week vacation (10 day total including the two weekends) and I feel energized. I got a chance to spend some time with my family in a local resort down here and celebrate my birthday. The vacation was mostly free thanks to all the hotel points I have accumulated over the past several months. And because I'm such a road warrior, I got this great birthday gift.

My favorite part of the vacation would definitely have to be spending time at the beach with the baby. While he had already been to the beach before, we were only there for no more than 20 minutes the first time (it was for our holiday photo shoot). I've been meaning to take the baby back to the beach, but weather has just not cooperated. And it was actually starting to bother me that a baby born in Puerto Rico had not gone to the beach yet (he's almost 15 months now...)!

Anyway, I'm happy to report that he LOVED the beach. He did tons of exercise by walking the entire beach and learning how to balance himself in the sand. He also LOVED getting buried by daddy. I wasn't sure how he was going to react to the sand on top of him. However, from the very first attempt I did at burying him, he was cracking up at the fact that the sand made his body "disappear".


For dinner, we dressed up the baby and he didn't look like a baby at all. He looked like a grown up. They grow up so fast, don't they?


Alright, now it's time to get back to business!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Oh Yeah! Update Your Lotus Connections Status From Ping.FM

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Twitter drives innovation...

If you are actively using social networks, you've probably heard of ping.fm. Ping.fm allows users to update their status in the following services from any of the following clients:

From: To:
  • Skype
  • SMS
  • E-mail
  • AOL Instant Messenger
  • Yahoo Messenger
  • MSN Messenger
  • GTalk
  • etc
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Identi.ca
  • Flickr
  • FriendFeed
  • etc...

So from a single place you can update all of your statuses. And you can do this from different places. You are NOT forced to go to ping.fm's website to update your status. Ping.fm can receive status updates from various sources and then send them to your sites.

Pretty cool, huh? Well, I saw a tweet suggesting that updating your Lotus Connections status from ping.fm would be valuable too. Wouldn't it be cool if we could update Lotus Connections status from SMS, Skype, AOL, and other !?! I agreed and took the challenge upon myself.

The code gets done...

The code was actually pretty simple to code up and test (~3 hrs). So how did I do this? Here's the flow:

  1. Configured Ping.fm to add a custom URL (i.e. http://my.ip.address:8080/PingFMLotusConn/ping.fm)
  2. From any ping.fm client, I send a status update
  3. Ping.fm sends an HTTP POST request to the above URL (I had to open a port in my firewall for this to work)
  4. My custom web application, in turn, uses the Lotus Connections Atom API to update my status

I tested this and it works like a charm!! That's right.. you can now microblog in Lotus Connections from ping.fm!

Open questions / challenges...

Before releasing the code, I still have one challenge that I have to address. Since ping.fm will send the status update request in behalf of the user, ping.fm needs access to the URL defined above. Therefore, a customer would have to put it in the DMZ or poke a hole in their FW for this to work. The challenge, however, is how do I know the user who's posting the message since ping.fm doesn't send any user information. The ping.fm API is not very detailed and basically they only give me a message, but nothing else.

Let's secure it!

I thought of asking people to hardcode their credentials in the URL, for example: http://my.ip.address:8080/PingFMLotusConn/ping.fm?username=...&password=... (instead of:http://my.ip.address:8080/PingFMLotusConn/ping.fm). However, this is not very secure because you are giving your credentials to ping.fm AND ping.fm would transmit those over the wire in clear text.

My thought right now is to create a Trust Association Interceptor (i.e. lazy man's SSO). This would require that the user include their email address only, not their password, as part of the URL. This has a security hole because anybody could then assume someone else's identity. For example, I can give ping.fm this URL and update Mac Guidera's status: http://my.ip.address:8080/PingFMLotusConn/ping.fm?username=mac_guidera@us.ibm.com. Not very secure.

So I'm thinking that I need to create a widget on the Profiles page that gets deployed by Lotus Connections Admins. This widget would generate a user specific URL (e.g. http://my.ip.address:8080/PingFMLotusConn/ping.fm?authToken=...) where authToken is an encrypted token that uniquely identifies the user (that way users can't assume the identity of others).

If you've read this far... thoughts ?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Demo: Lotus Connections Plugin for Sharepoint

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Earlier this week, the Lotus development team released the beta version of the new Lotus Connections plugin for Microsoft Sharepoint. You may remember that I mentioned this was coming when I did my recap of Lotusphere ealier this year. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you are probably familiar with the integration capabilities of Lotus Connections into Microsoft Sharepoint.

As soon as the plugin was available, and I got some free time, I installed it into a test system to give it a test drive. The installation was pretty straightforward. Basically, you run a wizard that asks you for two parameters: 1) the URL for the Connections Profiles service, and 2) the URL for your Sharepoint site (which was automatically detected for me). Clicking Next a couple more times and 2-3 minutes later the plugin was installed!

The new plugin provides 3 capabilities out of the box:

  1. Adds the Lotus Connections person card EVERYWHERE a name appears
  2. Adds a tag cloud web part to surface the global Lotus Connections tag cloud in Sharepoint
  3. Adds Profiles search mechanism as an additional search engine in Sharepoint

To see these capabilities in action, check out this quick demo that I just recorded.

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I'm sure this is going to make a lot of people happy. Connections and Sharepoint integration is a topic that comes up a lot with my customers. I'm also hoping that Mike Gotta, Industry Analyst with the Burton Group, will be happy as well since he was expecting more integration between Connections and Sharepoint earlier this year.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Use Lotus Mashups To Create Custom Reports for Lotus Connections

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Seems like Lotus Mashups is a popular topic in my blog. You may remember that last week, I introduced you to a wiki article that describes how to create a simple mash-up that leverages the Lotus Connections Profiles Reports-To Chain. Well, today I'm also going to talk about using Lotus Mashups together with Lotus Connections.

You see, recently, I was asked by a customer how to retrieve the total # of active users in Lotus Connections at any given time. Out of the box, Lotus Connections ships with a set of reports that displays this data. The reports, however, may not meet everyone's need. Of course, the reports can be customized as needed but some code is required.

Enter Lotus Mashups. Torsten Hoffman describes very nicely how to create a custom report for Lotus Connections without writing any code with the assistance of Lotus Mashups.


Very nicely done, Torsten!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More Lotus Connections Widgets Available

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I'm often asked what our customers are doing in terms of adding widgets to the Lotus Connections Homepage. By now, you are probably familiar with the Lotus Connections widget catalog that I'm hosting. That catalog should give you a pretty good idea of what kind of integration our customers are doing. And as you'll see the possibilities are endless.

Today, I got notice that one of the Lotus Connections v2.5 Beta Partners, Eniac, has also done some work in developing their own widget catalog. As you can see in the screenshot below, Eniac created the following widgets:

  • Poll/Survey widget
  • CRM Search widget
  • My Quickplaces widget
  • Bulletin Board (News) widget
  • Calendar widget
  • etc


Another great thing is that these widgets work cross-platform (i.e. on Portal v6+, Notes v8+, etc). Glad to see others developing around the Lotus Connections platform!

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