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BEA, IBM get social too early

Buy your anarchy toolset now

So BEA is, for example, pitching its three recently revealed offerings, AquaLogic Pages, AquaLogic Ensemble and AquaLogic Pathways as the integrated tools that will be needed by any AquaLogic user toying with moving towards exploiting social computing techniques.

IBM, for its part, is launching developerWorks community spaces, a place where users with common interests can meet online, and IBM Lotus Connection for Partners, which has a self-explanatory function for providing profiling, blogs, communities, and social bookmarking for partners selling Lotus-based products and services.

And thereby lies the rub. The businesses requiring such capabilities – and they will need them – are more likely to turn to social networks that are driven by their common business needs than by the technology they currently use.

From the vendors' point of view, the drivers towards social computing tools are likely to be found "out there" in the common problems of individual business segments rather than "in here" under the vendors' direct influence. Users, both at a strategic and tactical level, are more likely to turn to turn to, say, "myspace/invoice/management/alternative solutions" than a vendor-driven service.

And to stretch the analogy to breaking point, such efforts seem doomed to be putting both the design of the horse and cart before the appearance of roads. BEA's product marketing director for emerging products, Ajay Gandhi, suggested that its new offerings provided tools where "everyone can create collaborative web applications and situational workspaces". It sounds great: the ultimate freedom for any individual within a company to do what they think they need to do to make the business grow - the ultimate in business agility.

In practice, however, this has the potential of achieving an unbridled level of anarchy that would make the early days of the PC's appearance in business pale into insignificance. No social applications building can really take place until the right generic set of policies are defined that can manage the potential anarchy. Gandhi admitted that while BEA has a consultancy division looking at this issue, it has not reached the point of having a policy set available with which to advise and support customers as they move to social computing models.

Such generic policy models will then have to be robust enough to support adaptation to suit specific business requirements. As an example of just one issue, the potential for inadvertent misuse of a third party's intellectual property rights in a mashup could cause mayhem in the business world once corporate lawyers got on the case. There are attempts at creating new licence structures in this area – such as the Common Creative Licence in Flickr, which allows limited, personal use – but businesses are likely to need something a little more robust. It will, perhaps, also need to be an adjunct or superset of ITIL.

In reality, these policies will need to be not only defined but also fully implemented before any individual user gets anywhere near being allowed to put their own thoughts or aspirations into a tangible runtime form. ®

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