Perhaps the most interesting part of Lotusphere this year was the renewed focus on people, community, and social software. The theme ran through every aspect of the conference – from the new Lotus Connections product announcement to noticeable improvements in software usability across all Lotus and WebSphere products, and even to the forward-thinking forays into new social computing environments like Second Life. It was hard not to notice the excitement and interest of participants as they asked hard questions about how well social software concepts and technologies will translate into an enterprise setting – will people tag, bookmark, chat, converse, and share via these tools? And why would a company use these tools as opposed to using free services on the Web? While we’re starting to see business users adopting these tools, clear answers to these questions will take time to materialize.
Of course, IBM is not alone in putting their emphasis on human beings – Microsoft’s latest wave of products also have many of these themes coursing through their marketing material. This is good for the buyers of both software vendors’ products. For years the software industry as a whole has been characterized by products that are engineered before they’re designed – and the race to get new features on the market led to engineering groups throwing partially engineered products over the wall to red-meat-eating sales professionals who then crammed them down the throats of buyers. The feature war is over. I much prefer to see the software vendors competing to make people more effective and have impact in their roles – by making their software easier to approach, easier to use, and easier to integrate, and by helping people to make richer connections to each other.