IBM launches Facebook-like service

Business collaboration and social networking combined

IBM has launched a service that merges some of the features of social networking with business collaboration tools.

The service, named Bluehouse, is SaaS (software-as-a-service)-based and is currently free. However, once public beta testing ends sometime in the next few months, subscription pricing, which has not yet been detailed, will kick in.

Bluehouse combines a familiar pallet of collaboration tools, including instant messaging, web conferencing, document sharing, profiles, directory and tools to build business networking communities — all delivered via a cloud platform.

Like Facebook, Bluehouse will allow users to quickly create a collaborative space, but unlike Facebook, it has management features to ensure privacy and other controls that businesses want, says Sean Poulley, vice president of IBM's online collaboration services.

Bluehouse is part of broader cloud services initiative at IBM that includes helping independent software developers turn their applications into SaaS services, which the company can use to help businesses develop internal clouds for their own service delivery.

IBM has been developing cloud-based and SaaS services on a broad level and has been collaborating with Google. In July, Hewlett-Parkard, Intel and Yahoo announced their own collaboration effort.

Poulley says current economic woes may help the adoption of SaaS with its subscription model. "The fact is that cash is starting to get somewhat constrained in the marketplace," he says.

Adam Burrell, a senior technologist at a financial services firm which he ask not be named, has evaluated Bluehouse. He is already using SaaS tools, in particular Google Apps, and says of Bluehost that he believes it will simplify collaboration with third parties.

"We could rapidly put the team together without having to involve our IT staff," says Burrell of his experience with Bluehouse. Users can search profiles, invite people into projects, and having meetings and file sharing spaces. "It's very much like Facebook," he says.

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