Emerging Technologies Course
The ability to communicate and share ideas (e.g. data, pictures, sound) with another person is an integral part of daily life. However, distance can make these simple tasks difficult. Businesses must deal with the expense, time, and logistical complications of face-to-face meetings. The Internet has spawned a wealth of communication applications to solve these problems. This groupware for Internet collaboration allows people to work together even though they many not be present in the same room at the same time .
Internet Collaboration Technology
The collaboration marketplace has been evolving over the last 12 years delivering technologies that enable coordination and information sharing through virtual meetings, and more recently, virtual collocation (virtual organizations). The promise of these technologies is to improve our ability to collaborate, coordinate, and share information to facilitate inter- and intra- organizational teams. With these technologies, we have an opportunity to better support the mobile workforce and control personnel assets, wherever they may be. The technology has evolved into three forms, asynchronous, synchronous, and integrated collaboration applications .
Most organizations use asynchronous collaboration tools that enable the work force to coordinate and share information with each other. Examples include e-mail, discussion groups, information sharing tools, and group calendaring systems. These tools allow people to work together, regardless of whether team members and work products are physically organized .
Popular Free E-mail Account
Internet e-mail allows team members to exchange electronic messages with attached files. Many e-mail accounts are free and easy to obtain. Some popular free e-mail accounts are Excite, Yahoo, and Hotmail.
Discussion groups enable teams to confer through threaded discussions, which are available to the team. Information sharing tools such as Web servers and Lotus Notes enable teams to publish information and can provide an interface to share information in corporate directories and databases. Group calendaring systems allow teams to schedule meetings and the necessary resources for the meetings .
This market sector has been maturing over the last 6-12 years and provides a stable technology base with scalability to support the enterprise. Most of these tools have support for security via authentication, encryption, and firewall. Tools from different vendors are largely interoperable, with most vendors conforming to common standards or exchange formats. It is quite common to find many of these complementary tools bundled together as part of a product suite. Key vendors with offerings in this area include Microsoft, Netscape, and Lotus.
The marketplace for real-time conferencing tools has been very active over the last few years. Real-time collaboration tools take us to the next level of collaboration and provide us with the ability to conduct virtual meetings and share information in real time. Examples include text chatting, audio/video conferencing, and data conferencing through shared whiteboards, and real-time application sharing.
Text chatter has gained in popularity over the last few years with the emergence of a new class of chat tool that supports online presence awareness in addition to chat capability. Tools such as AOL Instant Messenger and Mirabilis ICQ, from ‘I Seek You”, allow users to create tailored “buddy lists” so they can be made aware when users of interest come online and are available to chat.
Most popular instant messaging programs provide these features:
These tools make it very easy to conduct one on one or group discussions. The programs are highly scalable and require very little network bandwidth resources .
Audio and video conferencing tools have started to become more viable, but still suffer from issues of stability and scalability to support large conferences. These tools require sufficient network bandwidth and quality of service to be effective on any scale, though users can effectively use audio on low bandwidth connections such as dial-up. Multipoint conference servers, such as those provided by Lotus Sametime (formerly DataBeam), White Pines, MeetingPlace (1999), Exchange 2000 Conferencing Server (2000) and Picture Tel 330, are required to enable multiple users to participate in an audio/video conference .
These conference servers, also called Multipoint Control Units (MCU), are a combination of software and hardware that allow 3 or more customers to join in real-time conferencing. Through a conference controlled interface, usually a browser, and data management facilities, the MCU manages the joining and parting of participants, routing data, audio and video from all members to all other members thus providing multipoint data. It may also provide several other conference management features and cross media participation such as web interfaces, real time video/audio from other sources, and ISDN based video conferencing .
There are many audio and video conferencing tools, which are interoperable through their support for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). However, there are still proprietary vendor solutions in the marketplace that are not interoperable with other tools.
The use of data conferencing tools, especially application sharing, have become more popular in the marketplace with the free availability of Microsoft NetMeeting and similar free tools for Sun and SGI platforms. Most vendors are adopting a common performance for real-time application sharing into their products based on the ITU T.128 standard. Shared whiteboard capabilities have remained constant over the last few years, and only custom solutions provide the additional capability required by the Department of Defense, such as support for geo-registration and specialized image formats like National Imagery Transmission Form. Many shared whiteboards are not interoperable with each other, and there has been a noticeable lag in adoption of common standards by the vendors. Both application sharing and shared whiteboard data conferencing tools are limited in scalability, and suitable only for small work teams. The full vendor community has not yet adopted data conferencing standards .
The next wave of collaboration technologies emerging into the marketplace is environments that support virtual collocation (organizations), often referred to as “place-based” collaboration environments. These environments integrate people, communications, and shared data, into a shared virtual space. The environment itself is constant, which means that the shared space, shared data, and properties of the collaboration environment do not go away and remain available to support ongoing collaboration. Some key properties of place-based collaboration environments include rich communications (text chat and audio/video conferencing), a shared document store to make documents and other data available to others, customizable virtual spaces to provide the location and context for the collaboration, conference within the collaboration context, and presence awareness so that users are aware of others that are available in the collaborative environment .
Place-based collaboration is still an active research area. Two commercial products available are TeamWave Workplace and General Dynamics (formerly GTE) InfoWorkspace.
TeamWave Workplace Software
Place-based collaboration environments are not yet interoperable with each other, and the ITU organization is currently working on standards for virtual space environments. Although the environments support authentication, and privacy of the virtual spaces via access control lists, additional securities are beginning to be addressed by the vendors, with a lack of secure communications and firewall risks .
Collaboration offerings have developed in the marketplace as individual applications and as bundled toolsets that offer a fixed package of related functionality. As demand for collaboration grows from workgroup to enterprise and cross-organizational scale, commercial offerings are expected to evolve toward a system framework approach, where collaboration services become integrated with the information infrastructure. The services-based framework, as the longer term architectural approach, will give customers flexibility in product choices to satisfy user requirements, competitive advantage to benefit from rapid technology evolution and innovation, and interoperability from leveraging existing enterprise services such as directory, security, document, search, workflow, and network services. Implementing such a framework is challenging and requires time, as the components for the framework become available and the techniques for integrating the services become better understood .
In the near term, the bundled toolsets will continue to be viable packages, providing an ‘out of the box’ capability that can be easier to set up and administrate but with less flexibility with interoperability and tool integration. Critical to the planning for the migration from the tightly integrated toolsets toward the system frameworks will depend on the developers understanding of life cycle costs and the impact of migration on users .
Internet collaboration developed because of the need for exchange of information across time and distance. Organizations realized the complications of setting up face-to-face meeting with employees and clients. Internet collaboration allows users to share information in real-time and near real-time applications saving time, expense, and solving logistical barriers.
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Mitre Cooporation, Last
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Together More Efficiently e-Synergy and Its Effect on How We Do business,
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