It is hard to believe that Dell's IdeaStorm site is five years old. (It's Feb 2007 launch was covered by us here.) But harder still to realize was that until last week, the venerated ideation site was getting a bit long in the tooth, even though it has had close to 500 different ideas implemented by Dell on various projects and products. Some of the ideas resulted in Dell's first backlit keyboard, wider sales for Dells in electronics stores, rack-mounted blade workstations, and and for Dell to offer Linux pre-installed. This last item has been partially implemented.

Last week Dell did a complete makeover of the site, adding features, reworking the UI, and in general sprucing up the place. We spoke with Bill Johnston, Dell's Director of Global Online Communities, to see what is new and what were some of the lessons learned.

Johnston is an old social media hand who comes from Autodesk and cNet and knows how to build communities. He told me that the original site was built on top of Salesforce.com's Ideas platform and went through a complete makeover. Plus, the old site had gotten a bit big and convoluted and had lost a bit of its way, partly a victim of its own success. "We had a backlog of ideas building up and didn't know what to do with them," he told me. Ideas were getting lost in the pipeline and Dell wanted to rework things and improve the level of innovation. Dell and Salesforce collaborated on bringing a new version of Ideas to the marketplace. Dell is the first customer of the new and improved platform.

So last week saw v2 of IdeaStorm. There is a new UI, much cleaner and meaner. You can find and submit ideas more easily. You can quickly track down a potential duplicate idea, so you don't resubmit one unintentionally.

Old ideas that don't get any traction are archived to keep the boards clean and focused. "We learned that ideas don't happen in a vacuum, and there aren't just single points of inspiration but we need to have a culture of innovation that encourages iterations and mashups of ideas," he said. Let's say I post an idea to a particular forum, but then someone comes along and posts a comment that extends my idea or takes it to a new direction. I would like to incorporate that comment into my original idea to make it more potent. That is what can now happen with the new site.

Finally, Dell has appointed 16 "idea partners" who are Dell employees responsible for managing, tracking, and implementing specific categories of ideas that match their own corporate divisions. The notion is to move these ideas into the right stakeholders as soon as possible, and not have ideas get lost in the sauce.

And you can see that they eat their own dog food, they have a forum where readers can post their comments about the new design, where we took the below screenshot:

"Listening to our customers is a lot like dial tone, it is just part of the corporate communications fabric," he said.

But the new design isn't static, and Dell has several other plans to enhance things in the works. For example, good ideas that they can't act upon are presented to the community as a sort of "creative commons" approach, whereby anyone can license and use them and act upon. They are also looking to place ideas in progress as reposts to other Dell Web properties to engage the separate communities that may not even be a part of IdeaStorm, to reach the right people and interact with them.

IdeaStorm was one of the touchstones of the enterprise social media age, and we're glad to see Dell giving it a makeover and planning for its future.