IBM has been pretty slow to cotton onto the social Web, but this year they've started to embrace web 2.0 and ramp up its marketing (some would say hype) around it. While IBM has undeniably always been at the center of technology and innovation, it's taken them a couple of years to marry their 'traditional' idea of web innovation to the more sexier consumer trend of 'web 2.0' - probably because they are such a huge company with layers of hierarchy.
IBM has just announced the 10th anniversary of alphaWorks - their showcase website for emerging technology. At the same time they've launched alphaWorks Services, an online initiative which will let the outside world view work done by IBM's R&D labs - by highlighting the company's most cutting-edge work and providing it for free download. alphaWorks Services will also let external people provide regular feedback to IBM's R&D labs, in hopes of creating a more collaborative community environment.
There's a video released on YouTube that explains more. In it IBM VP of Technical Strategy and Innovation Irving Wladawsky-Berger says that alphaWorks will keep IBM young, moving fast and in tune with the marketplace. He said it will let IBM "keep innovating where it counts".
I kept thinking though... isn't this supposed to be a showcase of emerging technology? So where's the show?
Note to IBM: Bring Sexy Back
Examples of alphaWorks success stories in the past 10 years are Autonomic computing, the Eclipse platform and Servlet Express. Others currently in the works include ADIEU, WebRB and Deep Thunder. None of these are 'sexy' consumer web 2.0 apps, which is one reason I'm a bit skeptical of how the alphaWorks Services initiative will play out.
The metaphor used in the press release of alphaWorks being "a window for users to get a sneak peek into our R&D labs" is a fitting one... it conjures up the image of white-coated scientists doing important stuff in the IBM labs. Universities and a lot of developers will certainly find this interesting - but it's not going to capture the imagination of consumers, like Google labs does... or even Microsoft's Windows Live.
Perhaps I'm being unfair. It may not be in IBM's interests to capture the public's imagination like Google or Microsoft, because after all IBM is an enterprise software company and not a consumer one. Nevertheless with the trend of 'the consumerization of the enterprise' happening at lightening pace, plus all the Web Office (aka office 2.0) developments, I think there are opportunities for IBM to reach out more to early adopters in the consumer market.
For a start alphaWorks Services is designed to showcase interactive online services, so how about making it a bit more interesting for the Web users in enterprises - rather than just the developers? Just a suggestion, and maybe a wrongheaded one. But personally I'd like to see IBM sex it up some more!
Slightly adjusted (just the first word) opening lyrics from Justin Timberlake's Sexy Back:
"IBM bringing sexy back;
them other boys don’t know how to act.
I think it’s special, what’s behind your back?
so turn around and I’ll pick up the slack."