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september 28, 2012

These are a few of my favourite things ...

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with strings. these are a few of my favourite things."

Connections 4 has been out now since September 7th and since then I've been playing around with it on our own demo environment which we are preparing for our Connections 4 Testdrive on October 4 in Rotterdam. And yes, it has a few of my favourite things... .

Of course there was the already familiar bits announced through webcasts and even from way back Lotusphere in January through slides and demos. Yet, there is nothing like test driving something yourself!

I have even found some little cool things that I did not see in any of the demos I watched. This is not a full list of all new features, and definitely not a full list of everything that's great about IBM Connections. But it is an overview of some great enhancements that allow employees to do their work efficiently.

Most of the improvements in Connections 4 are about context.
This means: getting information presented within the same context without having to move from one page to another or switch applications. The next paragraphs will show what some new features have in common with the concept context.

1.    The embedded experience in the new Activity Stream. For example when a colleague shares a file and I'm seeing this because I follow the colleague (or the community where the content was published) I can take action immediately from the Activity Stream. The possible actions depend on what is posted, but for instance with a shared file I can download the file directly without having to go to the file page first, or view the comments, and even make a new comment myself! The embedded experience saves me time and focus, because I don't have to click through separate windows.

2.    Second is the Mail and Calendar integration. As I mentioned in my blog post earlier, integrated Mail and Calendar allows me to do my work from one entry point for about 90% of my work. No need to switch back and forth between Connections and Mail/Calendar, as I can quickly see new mail arriving within Connections and responding to it without having to leave my browser. Most Mail functionality that I use on a daily basis is available through integrated Mail, and if not, I can easily go to my webmail from there and do more advanced stuff in my Mail or Calendar.

3.    I can Repost a Statusupdate so the information becomes available to my network as well. This is particularly valuable because it broadens the reach of information through networks of networks, as explained in an earlier post about the Strength of weak ties. Being able to repost a message is an easy way of sharing to my network what someone else has said, without having to send links (via email) to colleagues.
4.    Somewhat the same idea is the Share button, that is available always at the top of the screen, no matter what page I am on. When I find interesting information I can share this as a Statusupdate within my network by clicking this Share button.
5.    Fifth is the improvements to Communities which allow me to stay within the context of my community work. To prevent information overload or to focus solely on what's going on in a particular Community I can use the new Recent Updates view in the Community. In one single overview I'm up to speed again with everything that's been going on there.

Of course the possibility to post Statusupdates to a particular Community helps to prevent information overload as well. Instead of posting a Statusupdate to the whole organisation (anyone who is following me), I can direct certain information to a specific target group through posting it to a specific Community.

Events are a great way of making Communities all about work. All the meetings important to Community members can be posted as an event, to which any member can subscribe. Why not just use the Lotus Notes (or Outlook) Calendar scheduling instead? I can give some arguments for working openly through Community events.

·       Because meeting invitations sent to particular people will only attract these people, and nobody else will know about them, eliminating serendipity. It could be someone else in your organisation is interested, or could provide input or help with an event. But they can't if they don't know about the event.
·       Another reason is that when the event is for a large group of invitees, the organiser might not be interested in accept/decline messages. With events, there is no such thing. Members simply add the event to their Calendar through iCal subscription.
·       If the team or department for which the meeting is intended changes members (new employees, employees leaving the organisation) the organiser might forget to alert the new members and they don't get invited. In the case of a Community event, they can simply add the event to their Calendar themselves.

6.    As for the previously mentioned Statusupdates, they offer some more improvements that provide contextual work. Both Statusupdates on the Home page as within a Community allow you to include a file (uploaded or from Files). This way I can post a status message related to a file and give readers the opportunity to access that file right from the embedded experience. No need to copy/paste file url's or refer readers to another location. Again this embedded experience helps employees remain in the same context, not having to switch back and forth to different pages.
7.    And of course there is the hashtag (#). Using hashtags in Statusupdates makes information easier to find. Tagging your Statusupdates keywords with the '#' turns them into tags. And the new search functionality allows me to search through Statusupdates as well. This is bringing Statusupdates information within the context of all content, whereas before the information in Statusupdates sort of got lost because there was no way of searching for it.
8.    To make it easier for people to start using files instead of working locally with My Documents on their computer, the Bulk file upload is a welcome gift. Whether from the Explorer Plugin or from the browser employees can upload multipe files at once, and even add/change tags for multiple files at once. Once employees have their most used files in Connections there will be less chance that they will resort to emailing attachments, and they are more likely to remain working in Connections.

9.    Discuss This is a means to bring information that is somewhere on the internet into your organisation to discuss it within the context of an interest group. Any page can be discussed in a Forum. Discuss This takes the information that's outside of the organisation, and makes it into a topic in a Forum of your choice. Without having to copy/paste url's, it simply creates the link. Anything on the internet that you wish to discuss further with a group of people can be drawn in to the Community that it is relevant to.
10. With Related Communities different Connections Communities can be bridged, so that Community members get all relevant information delivered within the same context.
A Related Community shows up on the overview page and pulls in recent activity from one into the other. It could be that you wish to bridge two Communities on the same Connections environment. Maybe because they are covering the same or are somewhat related. It could be a project Community that wants to bridge work done in another project because what happens in one is relevant for the other. Even Communities on different Connections environments can be bridged. Thus allowing to collaborate in two environments without losing oversight. Maybe you have an internal directed Community on one server, and an external directed one on another where you collaborate with clients or partners. From the internal Community you can relate the external Community to it, so you can keep track of what's going on in both all from the same context.

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