IBM is opening the Center for Social Software, a thinktank for developing social technologies, officials said during a presentation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday.
Researchers from IBM's labs in Cambridge, New York, San Jose, Haifa, Tokyo, and Beijing, as well as officials from various business units, may do stints there, IBM said.
The global scope will allow the company to pull various cultural perspectives into the development of social software, said Irene Greif, IBM Fellow and centre director.
IBM is also planning outreach to local universities, internship programmes and "corporate residencies", where private companies can send development teams to work alongside IBM scientists on social-software projects.
"What people will be able to take home from this is IP... tailored applications and vision pieces," Greif said.
Thomson Reuters' healthcare division, which does contract research for governments, private foundations and the pharmaceutical industry, is one of the initial companies planning to take part, said William D. Marder, senior vice president and general manager of the division.
Marder's group analyses administrative data generated by the healthcare industry and generates visualisations from it, providing clients with insights that might not be easily obtained from a large set of raw data, he said.
"The problem is that physicians really treat patients one at a time," he said. "The challenge with that is seeing what's happened over time."
Thomson Reuters hasn't applied social networking to its research yet, but hopes to find out how by working with the new centre, he said.
One possibility would see regional initiatives around the country, where data from various sources would be pooled together for common use. "Where I'm thinking we're going to go with this is to build a database, built tools on top of it, and provide views for multiple physicians in the area," he said.
In addition, the general social-networking model lends itself to the healthcare culture, since physicians are already "part of a social network of professional peers", he said.