A new service from Tacit Software allows users to pick the brains of their friends and colleagues for opinions and expertise. The service, called Illumio, is set to debut next month, and works by transparently distributing a request for information on questions like, “Who knows Jane Smith?” or “Which cameras are better, Kodak or Canon?” to the computers in an network of users. Illumio is intended to extend the capabilities of existing collaborative environments by providing a communication and search component, says Tacit CEO David L. Gilmour, who notes similar technology, known as ActiveNet, has been sold by Tacit to corporate customers like Lockheed Martin and Morgan Stanley since 1997. MIT Sloan School of Management researcher Michael Schrage says, “This represents the eBayification of organizations. The reality is that organizations are run off of informal connections and tools such as this facilitate gray markets in information and interpersonal exchange.” The Illumio software filters responses by determining, for instance, who most recently had exchanged email with Jane Doe. If the local system identifies a strong relationship, the local Illumio software would query that person as to whether they wished to respond to the request for information. Users are queried in order of their assumed relationship, strongest to weakest, and potential respondents remain anonymous until they agree to answer the question. “This is searching your friends’ heads as reflected in what’s on their computers,” says Net expert and Illumio investor Esther Dyson.

New York Times 29 May 2006