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IBM Beta Tests Bluehouse, a Business "Facebook"

Six degrees of spearation fires the online networking concept.Not long ago Talkbiznow's CEO was flogging a new type of online business networking -- LinkedIn with souped up communications and services. Now it seems that IBM has just opened the beta on Bluehouse, a similar concept, only undertaken with far deeper pockets and way more experience. IBM's approach, with its impressive resources, should make LinkedIn nervous. Even if the particular expression may not start a category firestorm, it does suggest an evolutionary direction for digital business networking.

Bluehouse combines a familiar pallet of collaboration tools, including IM (instant messaging), Web conferencing, document sharing, profiles, directory and tools to build business networking communities -- all delivered via a cloud platform.
There is something compelling in the underlying concept. Why have networking when you can't easily communicate in a broad number of ways? In addition to some of the expected, I also found the following:
  • survey mechanism with form designer
  • activity tracking with deadlines, keyword tags, individual web pages, and the ability to involve others
  • blogging facilities
  • web meetings with application hosting and sharing
Bluehouse is clearly at a beta level. For example, everyone registering has to provide a company name, but there doesn't seem to be a way to join with an affiliation to an existing company. So who decides on the company description and other expressions of brand? The Live Charts facility kept freezing up when I tried it. There are some niceties that they might consider. For example, more flexibility on information formats â€" phone numbers apparently must use all dashes and no parentheses for the area code. However, this is beta software and not the important issue.

The real question is what businesspeople need these days. LinkedIn has proven the interest in business networking, and a plethora of other services -- Plaxo, Xing, and lesser known of the ilk -- have gone the sharing contacts route. But the idea of being able to do more, to combine networking with more extensive communications and collaboration, is an interesting twist. Now consider how easily, from a resource perspective, IBM could afford LinkedIn and work to combine the existing networks with the additional tools. It wouldn't be an easy technical merger, given the different interfaces and what they emphasize, but it would be possible. And IBM is being smart enough to create an early adopter program to get users involved in setting the course for the site, which is a good way to get people more deeply involved and turn them into sales agents for something they helped to create.

IBM's entry is making this category even more interesting to watch that before.

Six degrees of separation image via Flickr user cambodia4kidsorg, CC 2.0.

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