When IBM Beats Facebook And Twitter: Discover Relevant People Within Your Network

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When twitter recently added a “Suggested Friends” feature, I was more than a little disappointed. Unlike Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature, no explanation is provided for why these people were suggested.

In an enterprise setting, the most valuable people are the connectors: “The people who know which people know what”, according to Alan Lepofsky of SocialText.

The larger the organization, the more likely someone else is working on the same problem. And the less likely you’ll find them.

Automatic “Friend Suggestions” shift the connector role from people to software. These suggestion algorithms can use all sorts of data, from mutual friends to similar content (if we both tweet the same thing) to match relevant people. If you have the data, there’s a million ways to slice it. But every attempt I’ve seen seems mediocre at best.

While touring IBM’s Innovation lab at Lotusphere last week, I was surprised to see IBM is also tackling this problem with their “Social Networks & Discovery” project (SaND for short). And it looked FAR better than anything I’ve seen previously.

Their relevant person suggestion engine (screenshot above) uses mutual connections across multiple networks, shared knowledge tags, and even values certain connections above others (like a mutual boss).

Perhaps even more interesting, the IBM aggregation and filtering system works on any entity in a system–people, textual documents, or meta-information (tags). Like Google, searching on any term returns a ranked results list. But unlike Google, pausing over a link shows the relationships between people, tags, and documents (screenshot below).

As I tweeted earlier this week, I rarely read RSS anymore. Too much content, too little time. As this information proliferation grows–on both sides of the firewall–filtering relevant people and content will only become more necessary.

This is still in the research phase, and isn’t shipping in any IBM products yet, but I expect to see it in Lotus Connections fairly soon.

(Hat Tip to TechCrunch fan Ido Guy–an IBM researcher on another project, he pointed this out to me and said, “No one else in consumer or enterprise is doing this yet.”)

  • Falafulu Fisi

    I am not surprise there, as IBM has an army of PhD dudes that do nothing all day except R&D.

  • http://myblogchannel.com/?p=4560 When IBM Beats Facebook And Twitter: Discover Relevant People Within Your Network | My Blog Channel

    […] (Screenshots after the jump.) […]

  • http://kowtskotoh.blogspot.com Valentines Quotes

    IBM is so good!

  • theone

    Yeah, I saw that on LS as well. Great stuff they gonna provide at IBM!!!

  • http://www.ajaxgirl.com/2009/01/29/when-ibm-beats-facebook-and-twitter-discover-relevant-people-within-your-network/ Ajax Girl » Blog Archive » When IBM Beats Facebook And Twitter: Discover Relevant People Within Your Network

    […] (Screenshots after the jump.) […]

  • http://www.townsvillenerds.com/ Jane

    IBM… simply rules..

  • http://www.zachheller.com Zach Heller

    IBM, I must say, very impressive. The start of a new movement. I actually just posted about a new movement as well – http://zachheller.com/2009/01/29/lend-a-finger/.


    • Mark

      Wow, worst segue ever… if only someone could create a startup that keeps comments relevant (irony is this one would be deleted as well, which would please me to no end)…

  • http://www.robinmajumdar.com Robin Majumdar

    This looks impressive, but I think that is certainly not the only player in the enterprise space. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (aka MOSS 2007) has a significant number of “people connection” tools that work out of the box – creating connections based on Active Directory relationships (direct reports, managers, DL memberships)…

    What is interesting to me about this IBM initiative is that it appears to go beyond just quantitative data extracted from AD or Exchange Servers and delves into data mining the information used by fellow workers…

    Microsoft had a group called the Knowledge Network that worked on many of the people-oriented features now in MOSS.

    (Disclaimer: I have been a MOSS / WSS administrator for a few years now :-))

    • Mirco Wilhelm

      But this is nothing like MOSS, believe me.

      The internal IBM address book for employees is much more like a Corporate LinkedIn. With all the information provided here it’s much easier to find network or profession relations within the corporation.

  • Mark

    I suggest you have a look at Sonar from Trampoline Systems http://www.trampolinesystems.com/product/SONAR/benefits

    This uses your email to map your social network, and also uses the content of the email to find out who knows what.


  • http://nettlive.com/content/2009/01/29/when-ibm-beats-facebook-and-twitter-discover-relevant-people-within-your-network/ Nettlive.com » Blog Archive » When IBM Beats Facebook And Twitter: Discover Relevant People Within Your Network

    […] (Screenshots after the jump.) […]

  • http://tekmoda.com Suzanne Minassian (Product Mgr IBM Lotus Connections)

    Glad to see this article! We’re very excited about this work the Research team has been conducting.

  • http://jp.techcrunch.com/archives/20090129when-ibm-beats-facebook-and-twitter-discover-relevant-people-within-your-network/ IBMはFacebookとTwitterを出し抜くか―必要な人間をネットワーク上で見つけるソフトを開発中

    […] InformationIBMInformation provided by CrunchBase[原文へ](翻訳:Namekawa, U) ShowListings(“arc3”); ShowListings(“arc2”); AddClipsUrl = […]

  • http://blog.techrigy.com/?p=288 Next Iteration of Social Software: Automated Connection Mining Software could form ad hoc groups | Techrigy

    […] looks at a matrix of connections across various social platforms and tells how valuable a connection a sugges…to help you manage friend requests. A little […]

  • http://www.meetrix.us jebb dykstra

    First, IBM is awesome, but they should be with all of their resources and infrastructure (30,000 people in IBM’s SW group alone). However, let’s not let one small cool application let the tail wag the dog. This application could be out next month (doubtful) or it could be after three years of testing. One never knows with them – did they give you a release date. At VoiceCon in SF two months ago, I saw alpha/beta projects that were pretty cool from IBM, but were not going to see the light of day any time soon. They won’t release beta product or solutions!!!

    They are still playing with an internal version of LinkedIn for the enterprise, which has not hit the street for their enterprise customers. IBM is an important SW provider, but they don’t play at the cutting edge by any stretch. In fact, if you speak to the right team members inside IBM, they will also tell you that they heavily rely on their strategic partner co’s to fulfill this role in supplementing IBM tried and true products and solutions. I am not trying to take anything away from their cool approach to Connections (Plaxo also does not let you know how / why you are receiving suggestions). Just know that this is the exception, not the rule.

  • http://labs.businessobjects.com Laurent Bride

    Take a look at what SAP BusinessObjects Labs has done around Enterprise Social Networking and how they are leveraging corporate datasources to automatically create relationships and dynamic networks.

    The demo can been seen (54′ to 58′) on

  • http://webtrendblog.com/when-ibm-beats-facebook-and-twitter-discover-relevant-people-within-your-network When IBM Beats Facebook And Twitter: Discover Relevant People Within Your Network | Webtrendblog.com

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  • David Bell

    @Robin – linking people via a directory has no “social” concept at all. It is purely a mapping of organization and totally misses the point of social networks. AD cannot tell you which other people any given employee interacts with on a regular basis.

    As you point out, and where IBM shines, is in determining connections between people based on their content or social capital not just the rigid structure of a directory.

    The problem is that MS has no offering in this space (or ECM for that matter which is another “Sharepoint can do that” play of theirs), as hard as they try to convince people that they do.

    So Sharepoint is the only (weak) answer they have to any number of customer requirements.


      Wait till you see what is coming from Office 14. I think it blow you, IBM and others out of the water around Social in the Enterprise!

      • Spartan

        Seriously need edit functionality on this site!

        Meant to read –

        I think it will blow you, IBM and others out of the water around Social in the Enterprise.

  • asim

    Dear Entrepreneurs!
    We developed a breakthrough technology.
    Then I develped a proposal.
    To submit this confidential proposal ,I emaild to many companies(marketing,engineering,customer relation department)and I coould not get any reply.
    I need to ask you “How you make some company to read and analyse your proposal “.
    Please guide me.

    • Warren

      Know somebody who knows somebody. It’s often not what you know, it’s who you know.

  • http://livinganawesomelife.com Sacha Chua

    Yes, the social discovery stuff in IBM is cool – it doesn’t just work on mutual friends, like the way other social networks do, but also on shared bookmarks and things like that. =)

    Lotus Connections Atlas analyzes e-mail and instant messaging conversations of people who have opted in so that people can find potential experts. That one’s good stuff too. I love how I can look someone up and see their bookmarks, blog entries, the formal organizational path between me and the person, and the social network path (friend of a friend of a friend) between me and that person. Check that one out, too.

    (Disclaimer: I really like working with IBM!)

  • http://ragtag.wordpress.com Karl Roche

    Sacha – that should be a claimer, not disclaimer :o)

    I agree with some of the other comments about us not getting stuff out sooner – it’s getting better but with a company like IBM we are always fairly conservative in many ways – but coming up with cool stuff isn’t one of them – we have the stuff coming out of our ears. What people hear about is the tip of the iceberg.

    (Also likes working at IBM)

  • jebb dykstra

    Karl’s right — In my experience with IBM, they have greater technology sitting on their shelves than most co’s have out in the field. However, I spoke to one IBM sale rep who was responsible for 4,000 SKU’s. Who can handle that many product/solutions (even if they are all similar or derivative).

  • Mark G

    Check out twubble for twitter at http://crazybob.org/twubble/ it makes sensible suggestions and tells you some of the reasoning when suggesting.

  • tct


    MASHMEUP allows you to plot the twitter verse of who is twitting based on the semantic meaning of the URL that you can enter into the site. it also recommends other content. it shows who is talking to who over the twitterverse based on the ranked concepts from the unstructured text and meanings of the entered site or text phrase.

  • https://www.yammer.com/ Keith McCarty

    Great article. We just wanted to clarify that someone is doing this in the Enterprise space. Yammer has an advanced suggestion engine that exposes people you should follow based on proximity.


    The Yammer Team

  • http://www.suvda.com Suvda Myagmar (Yahoo Inc)

    I wonder if IBM’s “Social Networks & Discovery” project has anything to do with my internship project at IBM in the summer of 2004. During that summer we developed ReleScope- a tool for managing and forming productive relationships in academic communities.

    We used data mining techniques to recommend future collaborators and discover people that share common citations and co-authors. We crawled ACM Digital Library as a data source. For user study, we deployed ReleScope at ACM CSCW’04 conference, where each attendant was given a custom conference program annotated with info about how each presenter is related to the said attendant.

    We published a short paper on this work: http://www.suvda.com/papers/relescope_chi05.pdf

    • SD

      While I cannot completely rule out that your work wasn’t influential in kick starting this project, mostly because I am not part of the mgmt and thus do not to have that visibility :-), as much as I can tell after reading your paper is that SaND’s approach is different. It is primarily geared towards a corporate environment and takes in data from sources very different from a digital document library. It mines data from user interaction with web/intranet artefacts and focuses on activities to link people.

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