IBM putting social networking under microscope

17 Sep

NEW YORK--In an announcement sure to raise eyebrows among the companies gathered at the Web 2.0 Expo here, IBM said Wednesday it is opening the IBM Center for Social Software.

So is IBM intent on becoming another social media company? Hardly. Most likely Big Blue intends the new center to be a focal point for developing software tailored to help companies build social networking tools onto the sites. More importantly, the center could help IBM tailor consulting packages from IBM Global Services.

With that in mind, IBM's decision to open the center in Cambridge, Mass., (where the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University are based) rather than in Silicon Valley (where most social media companies are based ) makes more sense. In a press release, IBM describes the facility as an incubation center where it can collaborate with both customers and people in academia.

So why's this interesting? Many companies here on the exhibit floor at the Jacob Javits Center aren't social media companies. Instead, they're trying to sell software, hosting, and consulting services to social media companies and to traditional technology buyers like auto makers that are trying to add communities and other "social" tools to their Web sites.

IBM became a dominant supplier of software for Web 1.0 sites (both e-commerce and publishing) by following a similar model: It started into the market with rudimentary e-commerce and application server software packaged with IBM Global Services consulting contracts.

Smaller competitors such as the long-since-departed software maker Open Market scoffed at the IBM offering, noting that is was little more than a developer's tool kit that IBM used as a come-on to sell its consulting. They had a point, but IBM won that competition anyway.

Can IBM do the same to the nascent market for social-networking software? Few of the companies here at the Web 2.0 can afford to ignore that possibility.

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