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Securing your Bookmarks in Lotus Connections

IBM Lotus Connections, by its very nature was designed with minimal access control. As a result, anyone who chooses to share information across the five services is well aware of the fact that what they chose to blog about, comment on, and bookmark is immediately visible to their entire social network. It would almost seem a bit impractical to impose limitations on a tool whose sole purpose is to facilitate open communication and in IBMs’ words not mine “collaboration without boundaries”. For better or worse this is how the product was designed. Don’t shoot the messenger.

That being said it can oftentimes be hard to teach an old dog a new trick. Or to put it more simply, tell one of those guys you run across in a meeting who has to tell you all about the time he fed punch cards through a mainframe (or whatever it is you do with punch cards) how to use the “world wide web”. Old-school mainframe guy aside, there will undoubtedly also be the wet blanket who insists on ruining all the fun by enforcing some structure or policing of all content. Either way, one will oftentimes face an uphill battle when selling Lotus Connections.

Now I am not condoning any of the aforementioned behavior but I am a technical sales specialist and so as a result do realize that sometimes, just sometimes, you gotta do what gotta do to make the customer happy, including grumpy guy in the back row, and just sell some darn software.

So in this post I will allude to a possible solution for one common use case that is not immediately addressed with an “out of box” Connections installation but can be with just a slight bit of creativity. I am just finishing a whitepaper with a colleague of mine that will be out shortly that will go into great detail and be a “how to” of sorts but in the interim you will just have to give it a go on your own. The following describes a common request by many an IBM customer:

Company XYZ, is a large retail establishment that runs a “Vendor Portal” supporting multiple vendors. In an effort to attract additional vendors by being all hip and trendy, Company XYZ has decided to add a social networking capability to their Portal – specifically a bookmarking and tagging service. Queue Lotus Connections Dogear Service. The challenge, however, is that no vendor is allowed to see the bookmarks created by another vendor. Yikes, now how are they gonna do that?

…By first familiarizing themselves with the concept of a portlet, with all its bells and whistles (i.e. the ability to create a single portlet application that can be customized to display different content to different people), and to an IDE called WebSphere Portlet Factory.

You see, the service within Lotus Connections that does have a bit of an access-control model is the Communities Service. And oh! Communities have bookmarks! So, what one could do is to create a community for each Vendor and then moderate this Community so that only Vendor A is allowed into Vendor A’s community and so on and so forth. Now as an employee of Vendor A, when I dogear something, it will only be added to the community to which I am a member. Therefore I am not “sharing” bookmarks with another vendor. Genius! And since a Community is represented by a uuid and a portlet can be access controlled, customized and personalized I can do some fancy pants coding on my portlet to guarantee there is never any cross-contamination of bookmarks. Problem solved!

The only piece missing is understanding how to custom develop all this. And for that you will have to wait. In the meantime you can check out the samples on the WebSphere Portlet Factory Wiki and just imagine all the cool stuff you can develop with Lotus Connections by just becoming acquainted with the REST Call Builder.

Once we finish the article I will include a link to it here. Stay tuned and happy coding!

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When Dogear bites back.

Note* “Dogear” to the layman is a social bookmarking service. A feature of the IBM Lotus Connections product suite.

This weekend, while surfing the Internet I was interrupted by an urgent ‘ping” from a friend of mine in the UK. Normally I would ignore Sametime chats on the weekend, heck I ignore them during the week as well – do the ‘ole wait a few minutes and switch to ‘Away’ trick!  But since it was a slow news day I decided to respond. All I was told by my little British friend was that I needed to quickly check my Intranet Profile as someone must be playing a trick on me.

Damn I thought! Someone hacked my password (Seemingly “passw0rd” isn’t that secure anymore!) and posted that picture of me dressed in a turkey costume again! (key word, again!)

But no, I went to my corporate Intranet Profile and nothing struck me as odd. I looked okay, my “tags” were nothing out of the ordinary, no unauthorized blogs… I don’t understand I asked, what could possibly be ‘off’ on my profile?? “Check out your dogear” is all he said.

Then it hit me. You see about a month ago (yes, it has been there for an entire month – maybe more!) I had to do a demo for a customer of mine – a pharmaceutical company. In an effort to allow my Connections/Quickr demo to resonate with them I decided to randomly pick a drug listed on their website and build away. Paying no particular attention to what the drug actually did (I was lucky I was able to spell it the same way twice and/or even to pronounce it!) I added it to my doggear, tagged myself the resident expert, blogged about it, and populated a team space – all on IBMs Internal deployment of Lotus Connections. (The one we all use everyday) It was only once I arrived at the customer site did I realize that my drug of choice happened to cure a little disease called “Genital Herpes”.  Yes, I was now IBMs expert in all things related to Herpes.

The customer ate it up of course – enjoying the effort that we at IBM had gone through to show we cared but through the entire demo I was just counting down the minutes until I could get back online, make some changes and go back to just knowing stuff about portal and collaboration and themes and dogs. However it was a Friday afternoon. So when I did finally get home (traffic in Chicago can be a real pain!) I went out to dinner and to the mall – retail therapy. My expertise remained untouched – at least until today, (If only they would refresh the damn cache!) thanks to a set of sharp eyes across the pond.

The funny thing is, at the end of our Sametime chat all he said was “its okay, I am sure no one noticed, its not like its been up there for more then a day, right?”. Uh yeah, it’s just been a day. Of course 🙂

Bow-lingual: The next Translation Server?

Two things happened to me last week that prompted me to fritter away a Sunday afternoon blogging. The first was an excellent post by a friend of mine around the translation capabilities of Lotus Connections. The second was the discovery, or re-discovery, of the “bow-lingual” – a “Ma Self” original (circa Christmas 2005) – while cleaning out my desk over the weekend. “Bowlingual” as described by my Engineer Boyfriend is a total hoax. The “Magic 8 Ball of the Animal Kingdom” he declares it. Designed to “randomize responses or comments whenever it heard anything approximating a bark” (we will prove this wrong shortly, see below) — who would buy such a ridiculous contraption!?! (FYI – As of Sunday “Ma Self” vehemently denies purchasing said “bowlingual”.) In fact Engineer Boyfriend was so incensed (read intrigued) by this device that he snatched it out of my unsuspecting hands and stole off into his little engineer cave to begin assembling it. I didn’t hear from him for another 15 minutes until he returned and instructed me to “Strap it on him and make him bark”.  “Him” being Myles – our test subject who was completely content chewing on my toothbrush.

For easily the next forty-five minutes the two of us grown adults ran around the apartment like two crazy people, jumping up and down, making our best “woof!” and “bark!” sounds, running into the hallway and knocking on the front door, pretending to act scared, surprised, shocked. Nothing worked. Myles occasionally looked up from my toothbrush but overall kept a tight lip – i.e. he didn’t bark. 

Just about to give up, I grabbed a sausage treat. I dangled it in front of Myles’ nose. He started Bark-Yelling at the top of his little lungs, and at that moment, given the situation, I knew exactly what he was saying, I didn’t need “bowlingual” to interpret. “Gimmmmmeeeeee sausage! Sausage! Sausage! I neeeeeed sausage! Pant. Pant. Pant. Oh man, sausage.”

Did “bowlingual” agree?  We rushed to grab the transmitter device (yes, there is both the neck contraption for the dog, and the receiver for the owner) to see. After about two minutes of “thinking” (Gotta wonder if behind the scenes this thing is runnin’ Portal or something!) “bowlingual” told us the what Myles had actually said was “I’m scared. Get away from me”.  Someone was actually able to patent this thing?!?

Long story short (cause we continued to waste an entire weekend playing with this thing) here is what I am wondering. Given the relative inaccuracy of the bowlingual – do we at IBM feel there is anyway that we could improve upon it? Possibly bring it “in house” and give it a “blue wash”. Make it so incredibly hard to use but yet so completely precise that not only could we translate our software into our traditionally served languages but also to those who are currently unserved. Possibly to our friends in the animal kingdom.
In fact after a few tweaks on the current “bowlingual” I was able to conduct the following interview.

Angela: Myles what does “dogear” means to you?

Myles: Pant. Pant. (He was thinking here). Baaaaaarkk. Woof. Woof. Bark, arf, arf, growl, bark, bark. Woooooof. (He had a lot to say).

Bowlingual: Myles said. Dogear? Dogear?!?! Are you making fun of my ears. I am so tired of people picking on my damn ears. Lay off the ears!