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Use IBM’s Watson technology in an flattering way and you’ll be rewarded.

That’s certainly the way things look today when Big Blue announced it had made an investment in Fluid, an e-commerce software company that has integrated Watson — which can learn based on loads of historical information and then answer questions on the fly — into its virtual shopping assistant application.

IBM didn’t say how much money it has poured into Fluid, but we do know just how committed IBM is to backing companies that use its Watson technology. Earlier this year it announced $100 million in venture funding would go to companies running “a new class of cognitive apps powered by Watson.” Previous Watson-oriented investments from IBM include health-optimization company Welltok.

IBM said in January that Welltok and Fluid would go to market this year with Watson-enabled services, and now both of them have come up with funding from IBM. MD Buyline, a company with software for tracking medical equipment, is also slated to hit the market soon, IBM said at the time. Perhaps when that happens, IBM will throw some funding at MD Buyline, too.


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All these moves could help IBM become a platform for processing lots of different kinds of data through a cloud. They could help bring Big Blue closer to strategic goals around running businesses from clouds rather than undifferentiated servers for data centers.

The Watson investing also associates IBM with hip startups rather than slow-moving enterprises. IBM’s SoftLayer and Cloudant acquisitions have brought game developers and other early-stage IT buyers to IBM. Directly backing companies like Fluid when they’re open to showing off what Watson can do could lead more people to think about IBM as not just a mainframe seller but as a company that enables next-generation experiences.

Fluid chief executive Kent Deverell gives people a taste for such an experience in a blog post today:

Imagine buying technical gear, like a tent, online today. You would visit a retailer or marketplace website and search for tents by narrowing down factors like size, style, and a pre-determined list of features. Compare that to the in-store experience of engaging with an associate and saying, “I am taking my family camping in upstate NY in October and I need a tent. What should I consider?” Fluid’s Watson-enabled mobile app will enable consumers to make this same query online in plain English to find the perfect tent as well as unexpected items needed to complete the experience.

Through our partnership with IBM, we are taking consumers into a new era of computing. Soon, you’ll no longer type the word ‘backpack’ in a retail website’s search box and spend hours poring through dozens of options, reviews, and more in finding the ideal product. Instead, you’ll ask Watson what type of backpack is appropriate for a 14-day hiking expedition in Patagonia and quickly receive personalized, data-driven responses to efficiently guide your decision.

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