» Archive for the 'Community' Category

Plato Turns 50

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 by David Goldes

Imagine a world without the collaborative tools we take for granted today. Decades before the emergence of the Internet and World Wide Web, computer pioneers were building Plato, a system that pioneered chat rooms, e-mail, instant messaging, online forums and message boards, and remote screen sharing. 

When the mind is thinking it is talking to itself. -Plato

Plato (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) was the world’s first computer-aided teaching system and it was built in 1960 at Computer-based Education Research Lab (CERL) at the University of Illinois and eventually comprised over 1,000 workstations worldwide. It was in existence for forty years and offered coursework ranging from elementary school to university-level.  

Social computing and collaboration began on Plato in 1973. That year, Plato got Plato Notes (message forums), Talk-o-matic (chatrooms), and Term-talk (instant messaging).  

Plato was also a breeding ground for today’s technology innovators. Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes and Microsoft’s chief software architect, worked on the Plato system in the 1970s as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Many others including Dave Woolley, who wrote Plato Notes at the age of 17, Kim Mast, who wrote Personal Notes (the e-mail system) in 1974 at the age of 18, and Doug Brown, creator of Talk-o-matic, continued to develop collaborative technologies in their careers.  

Don Bitzer, credited by many as the “father of Plato,” is the co-inventor of the plasma display and has spent his career focusing on collaborative technologies for use in the classroom.  

This week we celebrate Plato’s 50th anniversary. Why a week and not a day? I spoke with Brian Dear, whose book on Plato (The Friendly Orange Glow: The Story of the Plato System and the Dawn of Cyberculture) will be published later this year,told me “[I]t’s hard to pin down an exact date, due to a) it being open to interpretation as to what qualifies as the first day — when the project got green-lighted? when they started designing it? when a system was actually up and running? when they did the first demo? — and b) there’s little lasting documentary evidence from those earliest weeks.”  

“May 1960 was when Daniel Alpert’s interdisciplinary group that had held meetings for weeks about the feasibility of the lab embarking on an automated teaching project, finally submitted its report to Alpert. He read it, thought about it, and decided to ignore the group’s recommendation to not proceed. Instead he asked if a 26-year-old PhD named Don Bitzer wanted to have a go at it, and Bitzer agreed. Consequently, on June 3, Alpert wrote up his own report to the Dean of the Engineering School, which instead of reiterating his group’s recommendation to not go forward with a computer education project, stated that they were indeed going forward. Bitzer went right to work on it, brought in others to help with the hardware and software, and they had a prototype up and running pretty quickly that summer. The rest is history.”  

 

   

 

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

In the briefing room: NewsGator Social Sites

Thursday, May 14th, 2009 by Cody Burke

With hundreds of millions of regular users, social software has become a part of many knowledge workers’ daily lives – outside of the enterprise.  But the value of such tools doesn’t necessarily end at the firewall.

One vendor recognizing the potential in this space is NewsGator, a company that, in the past, has been synonymous with RSS tools.  NewsGator supports collaboration and social networking in the enterprise through its Social Sites offering, currently in version 2.7.

Social Sites is a social computing layer that is added on to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007 deployments.  It brings social features such as Ajax-based profiles, activity feeds, community creation, and idea generation functionality to SharePoint.  Social Sites enables the users to build both internal and external communities, increases use of internal portals, and uses social networking to enhance communications within an enterprise.  All of this takes place through SharePoint, which exports data natively in RSS, making it easy for NewsGator to hook on to.

At login, Social Sites provides a personalized start page that collects information based on a variety of factors, including one’s colleagues (the Social Sites version of Facebook friends), groups and communities the user is a member of, content preferences , and projects.  The profile is customizable and during set up the system will recommend colleagues, groups, and communities based on common tags and interests.  From profiles, a user’s details, contact information, ideas that have been generated, votes for ideas, tag cloud, and content subscriptions are visible.  An activity feed appears on a user’s profile, similar to Facebook’s activity stream, which features relevant notifications, such as bookmarking by colleagues, events, community and group activity, document creation and editing, and content from outside Social Sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  This feed can be sent out as an e-mail digest, in full or in a custom version around topics or certain kinds of activity.

Social Sites can create a social network graph linking an individual with colleagues based on common interests and activities such as tagging.  A mini profile of each individual is one click away but it isn’t possible to pivot from one person’s network to another’s at this time.  NewsGator says this may be included in a future release.

Communities can be created easily and quickly around projects, interests, and idea generation.  The idea generation and innovation aspect of Social Sites is a good addition to the social functions; it allows brainstorming to be conducted relativity seamlessly, without having to utilize a separate system or tool.

A key area featured in Social Sites is the idea of surfacing connections between knowledge workers who do not know each other, and may be working on similar projects unbeknownst to one another.  If Joe in Los Angeles is working on a presentation and posts something to that effect on his blog, and Frank in Munich is working on the same type of project and has added a wiki page on it, the system will make that connection and recommend they become colleagues in the system.

Social Sites is not intended to replace direct communication tools such as e-mail and instant messaging; rather, it serves as shared knowledge repository, be it through exposing users to content that may be relevant to them or functioning as a virtual brainstorming session.  It does, however, allow companies to add valuable social networking tools onto their SharePoint deployments without the risks that the use of public social networking tools entails.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Oracle Beehive

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira and Cody Burke

We recently had our first look at the new version of Beehive, Oracle’s collaboration solution and replacement for the Oracle Collaboration Suite.  Beehive is available both as an on-demand application or on-premises deployment and it goes up against two heavyweights. One is IBM, which created the groupware market with Lotus Notes and also offers Lotus Connections, Quickr and Domino (the Notes server). The other is Microsoft, which offers customers Exchange and SharePoint.

The effort behind Beehive is in part the handiwork of newly-arrived chief beekeeper and senior vice president of collaboration, David Gilmour, formerly CEO of Tacit Software, a provider of collaborative tools that Oracle acquired last year.

Beehive looks to have the makings of a Collaborative Business Environment (CBE), a workspace designed for the knowledge worker that incorporates all tools and resources in one overarching environment, which is starting to supersede the traditional desktop metaphor of separate and distinct tools.

Beehive 1.5 adds Web-based team work spaces along with wikis, team calendaring, RSS support, contextual search, and advanced file sharing.  Other changes in Beehive 1.5 include enhanced Web and voice conferencing including on-demand recording and retrieval and the ability for a presenter to see the delay between the screen they are sharing and what the audience is seeing.  Also included is integration with standard desktop tools that allows users to stay with e-mail clients that they already use, such as Microsoft Outlook, AppleMail, and Thunderbird (but not Lotus Notes) and instant messaging clients that adhere to open standards.

For tighter integration, Beehive has an Outlook extension that mimics the familiar interface of Outlook with Exchange when connecting Outlook to  Beehive.  It also has an extension for Windows Explorer that provides a folder level view as well as the option of using the included Zimbra open source e-mail software.  Behind the scenes, all data is stored in an Oracle database.

Right now, we’re only scratching the surface.  We will be looking at Beehive in greater depth in an upcoming report.

Jonathan B. Spira is the chief analyst at Basex. Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Enterprise Social Networking: Some thoughts from the Online Community Unconference 2009

Thursday, February 19th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Last week I moderated the Social Networking in the Enterprise session at the Online Community Unconference East 2009 in New York.

The theme for the session was Social Networking in the Enterprise.  We discussed trends in social networking that are both internal and external to the enterprise.  In attendance were over 15 knowledge workers from a variety of organizations including Crowd Fusion, IBM, Leader Networks, Leverage Software, McKinsey, MediaVision, Ramius, SAP, Social Intent, Symphonic Consulting, and Time among others.

Here is what we discussed.

Despite the proliferation of social networking, many organizations remain clueless in this area.  Ultimately most companies want to use social networking to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing but they are not sure as to how to proceed.  In addition, many organizations feel pressured to use public social networks for marketing purposes, but they typically do not have a clearly defined set of goals in mind.

It is also important to recognize that building a social networking presence requires a lot of work behind the scenes.  Just because everyone else has a corporate Facebook page does not mean that it is right for your company.  Clearly, more thought needs to go into the benefits of developing a social networking presence in the context of an organizations identity and its own requirements.

One thing was clear (at least to me), companies that develop social networking tools for the enterprise will need to educate decision makers about the benefits of social networking tools in order to gain traction in the marketplace.

Another interesting topic was that of expertise location, something Basex has reported on extensively.  Many knowledge workers experience difficultly in finding subject matter experts, i.e. a Russian speaker or someone who understands how to deploy a specific software solution, and view social networking tools as a possible solution.  Another interesting trend is that some companies are considering deploying fairly sophisticated social networking tools although they have not yet deployed fairly basic community and collaboration tools (such as instant messaging).  That type of leap may not work very well for their knowledge workers.  Social networking tools add an additional level of complexity that some may not be quite ready for.

In terms of knowledge sharing, we heard that many knowledge workers are still information hoarders and have not learnt that there is tremendous value in sharing information with colleagues.  If an organization can’t get past this obstacle, it will not be able to compete successfully in the knowledge economy, where knowledge sharing is, of course, de rigeur.

The foregoing was just a brief overview.  As with most good discussions, more questions were raised than there was time to answer them, but the quality of both people and ideas that were present was refreshing, and we at Basex look forward to continuing this conversation.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Lotusphere: Blue is the New Yellow

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

This week was the 16th annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida.  It was my 16th as well, although my count includes three Lotuspheres in Berlin.

As has been the custom all these years, IBM once again unleashed a flood of information, both in the general session and throughout the event.  For those allergic to information overload, Orlando was a dangerous place.

The news, from a somewhat modder, hipper, Lotus, which trotted out the Blue Man Group (one had to wonder why it took Big Blue over a decade to book them) and Dan Aykroyd to further underscore the message of collaboration and this year’s theme of resonance.  Last year, incidentally, we said that “yellow is the new black.”   Regardless of color, the tools coming from Lotus allowing knowledge workers to share knowledge and collaborate are stronger and more powerful than ever.

Indeed, resonance can be “very very powerful,” Lotus GM Bob Picciano (attending his first Lotusphere following his appointment to the top position eight months ago) pointed it out in the opening session.  When it’s working at its full potential, he added, it will “absolutely shatter windows.”

With Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie present, IBM celebrated the tenth anniversary of the BlackBerry mobile device by unveiling a new BlackBerry client for IBM Lotus Sametime, IBM’s unified communications and collaboration platform, that supports Web conferencing, file transfer, public groups, and enhanced presence.  BlackBerry addicts, excuse me, users, can also open Lotus Symphony word processing documents attached to e-mail or Sametime, with eventual access to presentations and spreadsheets.   They can also download, edit, and post to Lotus Quickr team software.

The new BlackBerry client for IBM Lotus Connections social software platform integrates with e-mail, camera, media player, and the browser, and supports blogs, activities, and communities.  It also supports enhanced profile information including name pronunciations and pictures.  Previously, users on BlackBerry devices could only access Connections’ profiles and tag tools.

But there was more, lots more.

Lotus Sametime
IBM also announced Lotus Sametime 8.5.  Not surprisingly, the new version sports a brand new user interface.  It also includes a tool kit that allows customers to use Sametime to add collaborative capabilities such as presence, instant messaging, and click-to-call, to their business processes.  Sametime features enhanced meeting support, including an Ajax-based zero-download Web client and the ability to add participants by dragging and dropping names.  Other enhancements include improved audio and video, persistent meeting rooms, better support for the Mac and Linux platforms, and the ability to record meetings in industry standard formats.  The Sametime Connect client includes connectivity to profiles within Lotus Connections and pictures from contacts in Lotus Notes.  Sametime Unified Telephony ties Sametime to corporate telephone systems and allows knowledge workers to give out one phone number and set up rules that allow them to be reached based on various conditions (if one is in a meeting, the call could go directly to voicemail unless it’s one’s manager, in which case it would ring on the mobile).

LotusLive
After a year of public beta using the code-name “Project Bluehouse,” IBM announced LotusLive.  The new cloud-based portfolio of collaboration tools and social software supports e-mail, collaboration, and Web conferencing. LotusLive is built using open Web-based standards and an open business model allowing companies to easily integrate third party applications into their environment.  Two LotusLive services are available from the site, Meetings and Events.  Meetings integrate audio and video conferencing; events supports online conferences including registration.

The IBM Web site also lists LotusLive Notes, or IBM Lotus Notes Hosted Messaging in more formal IBM parlance, but unlike Events and Meetings, you can’t sign up and start the service online.  The only button to click is the one that says “Contact Sales.”

Partners for LotusLive: Skype, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com
IBM also announced that LotusLive will support Skype, LinkedIn, and salesforce.com.  LinkedIn members will be able to search LinkedIn’s public professional network from within LotusLive and then collaborate with them using LotusLive services.  Salesforce users will be able to use LotusLive’s collaborative tools in conjunction with the customer and opportunity management tools available in the Salesforce CRM application.  LotusLive users will also be able to call Skype contacts from within LotusLive

LotusLive Engage
IBM also announced the beta of LotusLive Engage, a “smarter” meeting service according to IBM.  Engage is a suite of tools that conflates Web conferencing and collaboration with file storage and sharing, instant messaging, and chart creation.  It allows knowledge workers to continuously engage – not just for one meeting – in a community-like environment.

IBM and SAP present Alloy
IBM and SAP announced their first joint product, Alloy.  Previewed at last year’s Lotusphere under the code name “Atlantic,” Alloy presents information and data from SAP applications within the Lotus Notes client and Lotus Notes applications.

If you want to look back at news from past Lotuspheres, feel free to click back to 2008, 20072006, 2005, or 2004.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Tell Starbucks What You Think – But Not So Fast!

Friday, March 21st, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

The coffeehouse has always been a kind of gathering place.  Since the late 1980s, in cities in the United States and many other countries, Starbucks has provided Italian-style coffee bars that serve as places to meet, work, chat, read, socialize, linger and are a work-friendly (read Wi-Fi-enabled) environment to millions of customers.  But Starbucks, whose stock has declined almost 50% in the past year, found itself straying from its roots and sorely in need of a makeover.

In January, Starbucks ousted CEO Jim Donald, replacing him with Howard Schultz, the company’s chairman, who built the chain from four locations to over 15,000.

Starbucks needs more than Howard Schultz however, and has decided to enlist its customers in its makeover.

To this end, Starbucks announced My Starbucks Idea, an online community dedicated to sharing and discussing ideas about Starbucks’ operations.

A little background on idea management: with a few notable exceptions (ones we covered in our 2002 report Improving Profits Through Idea Management , idea management has been little more than a suggestion box (or its online equivalent) in most organizations.

An effective idea management system will record all ideas, discussions relating thereto, and provide a mechanism for acting on and expanding up on ideas.  Companies have also found that finding a way to recognize and/or compensate those contributing valuable ideas is key to ensuring the success of a program.

By and large, most idea management programs have been internally focused.  There are significant legal implications surrounding the acceptance of an idea – and these are of paramount importance when the developer of an idea is not an employee of the company receiving the idea.

Herein lies the rub.

Starbucks requires anyone contributing an idea or other intellectual property to grant it a nonexclusive, worldwide license to publish the idea and contributors must also agree that “no compensation is due to you or anyone else for any inadvertent or intentional use of that idea…”  Indeed, Starbucks suggests you might wish to get a patent on your idea, ostensibly before you post it online.

The site’s FAQ clearly states “[I]f we implement your idea, we may give you credit on the site, but we won’t be compensating customers if their ideas are chosen.”

Now, back to Starbucks and idea management.  Starbucks is clearly seeking the vox populi and using the concept of idea management to build enthusiasm around the brand.  An extensive examination of the “ideas” and issues being discussed failed to reveal anything earth shattering.  Starbucks could have saved itself a lot of effort and expense and simply handed out a customer feedback card at the point of service.

Unfortunately, the kind of out-of-the-box thinking Starbucks needs is unlikely to come from MyStarbucksIdea.com unless Starbucks follows what everyone else who has attempted idea management has learnt: create real incentives for idea submission and they will come.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Lotusphere: Yellow is the New Black

Friday, January 25th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

This week was the 15th annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida.  It was my 15th as well, although my count includes three Lotuspheres in Europe.

IBM unleashed a fire hose of announcements at the opening general session.  We’ll try to walk through the most interesting ones here.  It’s a lot of material but you should read through it regardless of whether you use mostly IBM tools or mostly Microsoft tools as there are implications here for all.

One memorable moment from the conference’s opening session: Mike Rhodin,  the general manager of Lotus Software, aped Steve Job’s keynote from MacWorld in which Jobs introduced the MacBook Air by pulling it out of an envelope.  Rhodin pulled the new (and very yellow) Lotus Foundations server out of an envelope.

Lotus Notes and Domino 8.0.1
While this may sound like an insignificant maintenance release, it most definitely isn’t.  There are some significant enhancements to be found in it.  (Of course, the move from dot-zero usually allows companies to start deploying the new version as many of them are allergic to dot-zero releases.)

8.0.1 includes several significant updates including My Widgets and Traveler.  My Widgets (which some, including IBM execs, call a Web 2.0 feature) uses a technology called Live Text that identifies patterns and phrases and associates them with an appropriate widget. (Live Text is similar to what Microsoft calls Smart Tags.)  One example would be the recognition of an address within an e-mail message and the ability to automatically display directions from the recipient’s location to that address.

Another example is retrieving real-time flight information by clicking on a flight number in an e-mail or itinerary.  Knowledge workers can add (via drag-and-drop) an almost unlimited number of widgets including Google Gadgets, feeds, Web pages, or custom programs to the widgets panel in the Lotus Notes sidebar.

8.0.1 also includes Domino Web Access Lite.  This is a browser-based e-mail client optimized for low bandwidth environments.  It’s AJAX based and includes in-line spell check, rich editing, and Google Maps integration.  The standard version of Domino Web Access has a much faster startup time.  Finally, 8.0.1 adds 35% compression for mail files.  Lotus is introducing some compression with 8.0.1 and further compression with 8.5 (see below).

Lotus Notes Traveler is a very cool client for Windows Mobile devices that provides automatic, real-time replication of e-mail (including attachments, calendar, contacts, etc.) to the mobile device.

Lotus Notes and Domino 8.5
8.0.1 may be hot off the press but IBM is not sitting still.  Notes and Domino 8.5 will support AJAX, style sheets, and RSS or Atom feeds.  It also supports better ID management, compression technologies that can reduce storage requirements by up to 35% for attachments on Domino servers, and also reduce overall disk space requirements for databases by up to 35%.  Lotus will also update templates for discussion databases and document libraries and introduce Domino Designer 8.5, the first Designer client based on the Eclipse and Lotus Expeditor frameworks.  This will provide a full palette of AJAX-based controls that you can drag-and-drop directly into Notes and Domino applications.

Lotus Protector
IBM wouldn’t skimp on naming, this is really called IBM Lotus Protector for Mail Security, but what’s key here is that this is a hardware appliance (in bright yellow) that provides virus and spam protection through the IBM Proventia Network Mail Security System.  Protector also uses IBM Internet Security Systems’ threat mitigation and information security technologies and the IBM ISS X-Force research and development team played a significant role here.

Symphony
Beta 4 of IBM’s desktop productivity tools, based on an open programming model, will be available by the end of this month.  The new beta allows software vendors to connect documents to applications; documents can access and manage applications such as the issuance of a shipping order or an invoice directly from a spreadsheet.  Information flows both ways; inventory data can pass into Lotus Symphony Spreadsheets for analysis.

Companies will be able to use the workflow inherent in Notes in conjunction with composite apps that are built using the Symphony tools.

IBM is making available a series of plug-ins including IBM Lotus Sametime Unyte Meeting, Lotus Sametime Unyte Share, and IBM WebSphere Translation Server on the Symphony community Web site.

IBM Applications on Demand for Lotus Notes
IBM Applications on Demand for Lotus Notes provides a hosted and managed environment for Notes and Domino as well as Sametime, Lotus Connections, and Lotus Quickr tools.

IBM Lotus Mashups
Mashups allows knowledge workers to create enterprise mashups such as ad hoc visualizations created by blending information or data from both enterprise repositories and the Web.

It includes a browser-based tool for mashup creation; ready-for-use widgets; a catalog for sharing and locating additional widgets and mashups; a builder for the creation of widgets that can access enterprise systems.

IBM Lotus Connections 2.0
The new version of Connections features a new home page built using Lotus mashup technology which aggregates and filters social data from the five Connections services, namely Profiles, Communities, Blogs, Dogear, and Activities.  This allows knowledge workers to see what’s new across their professional networks and find the information they need to finish projects.

Lotus has also enhanced the community component of Connections with discussion forums and the ability to link to various wikis including Lotus Quickr, SocialText, and Atlassian.

IBM Lotus Quickr 8.1
Lotus Quickr is IBM’s Collaborative Business Environment for teams.  The new version adds content libraries, team discussion forums, Weblogs, wikis, and new connectors to information sources.  IBM will release Lotus Quickr Entry, which will serve as a entry-level version of the platform.  IBM Also announced plans to integrate Quickr with various enterprise content management systems such as IBM FileNet P8 and IBM Content Manager.

Lotus Foundations
IBM hasn’t focused on smaller organizations, which it defines as businesses with five to 500 employees, in years.  Lotus Foundations is intended to be a line of Linux-powered software servers that are offered through IBM Business Partners.

IBM is counting on simplicity – the server software will require little technical expertise and will be autonomic – to appeal to this audience.  This means it should install without requiring an IT department to deploy and administer it.  The first Foundations offering will be a server with the Lotus Domino mail and collaboration platform, file management, directory services, firewall, backup and recovery, and office productivity tools pre-installed.

A key component of Foundations comes out of IBM’s acquisition last week of Net Integration Technologies, a privately-held company that provides a simplified business server software solution for small businesses.  It’s not a coincidence that the company’s platform supports e-mail, file management, directory services, back-up and recovery, and office productivity tools.

Atlantic
IBM and SAP announced a joint offering, code-named “Atlantic.”  Atlantic will integrate information from the SAP Business Suite into the Lotus Notes client, allowing knowledge workers to remain in one environment for more of their work.

Bluehouse
Another interesting if somewhat amorphous announcement was the beta of a Web-delivered service with the code name “Bluehouse.”  Bluehouse provides extranet services (file sharing, instant messaging, social networking, Web conferencing, and project management) that allow smaller companies to collaborate with one another.

Lotus Open Collaboration Client Solution
IBM will offer an integrated Lotus Open Collaboration Client Solution with support for Ubuntu, a Linux-based operating system from Canonical.  Ubuntu is popular for thin-client and desktop/laptop applications (as opposed to servers).  The client is based on Lotus Notes 8 and Lotus Symphony.  The client supports e-mail, calendar, unified communications, as well as word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation capabilities that support the Open Document Format (ODF).  It’s built on Lotus Expeditor, which is based on the open source Eclipse Rich Client Platform.

Full support for Ubuntu within Lotus Notes and Lotus Symphony is planned with Lotus Notes 8.5 in the second half of 2008.  The Lotus Symphony office productivity suite is included with Lotus Notes 8 and is also available as a separate download, at no additional charge.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Lotusphere Report – The Future is in Sight

Monday, January 23rd, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

Including three European Lotuspheres, this year’s is the 13th I am attending.  To some that may mean that I’ve heard it all before.

In some respects, I have.  While the products add more features and colors, Lotus’ message of collaboration and knowledge sharing has remained intact.  And that’s a good thing because IBM and Lotus have been building tools that will enable companies to build true real-time Collaborative Business Environments.

But will customers know how to use these tools to their best advantage?  Today, the answer is no.  And it isn’t the fault of the tools or the vendors per se.  Rather, it stems from what is a very sudden appearance of a knowledge economy (sudden in the overall scheme of things) and a distinct lack of preparedness on the part of both the business and IT worlds.

What is proper preparation, then?  Training managers on managing knowledge workers would be one answer.  I was interviewed today by a newspaper reporter about our research on interruptions.  She asked me for suggestions on how to lessen the impact of technology-driven interruptions and one suggestion was to avoid the temptation to peeak at each e-mail as it comes it.  She told me of a friend who works at a company where her manager would never tolerate a delay in replying to one of his e-mails, that this manager would be on the phone asking why she hadn’t replied.

Clearly, that manager needs to read my book, Managing the Knowledge Workforce.

But I digress.

The theme of this year’s Lotusphere is FUTUREINSIGHT.  Lotus may have the future in sight, but there is a lot of work to be done before they – or any other vendor of collaboration and knowledge sharing tools – will have it in grasp.

The problem is not with the tools – in fact, quite the opposite (I’ll get to Lotus’ announcements in a moment).  The problem is that the IT industry as a whole – including, of course, the large subset that sells $50 billion of tools supporting collaboration and knowledge sharing each year (a market supersegment we call Collaborative Business Knowledge) – does not know how to talk to its customers.  I’ll cover that rather large issue in a future column.

Today Lotus announced a variety of new real-time communications tools and partnerships.  First, Lotus Sametime was renamed Lotus Sametime (no more IBM Lotus Instant Messaging).  Sametime 7.5 sports a brand new client and adds voice-over-IP capabilities, allowing knowledge workers to talk with colleagues through their computers.  Lotus is adding a Sametime 7.5 client for Apple’s Mac OS X version 10.4 and for Linux.

Sametime 7.5 is now built on the Eclipse open source framework.  As a result, users can access a variety of plug-ins, including Google map mash-ups and audio/video extensions.  Sametime also comes with a new Web conferencing interface that simplifies the chore of managing such meetings.

A rather innovative new feature is the addition of social networking capabilities, allowing companies to access organization-wide collective knowledge, locate experts, poll users, and create communities to whom focused content or enquiries might be sent.

Finally, IBM announced connectivity with public IM services, including AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and Yahoo Messenger.  IBM also announced plans to enable interoperability with Google Talk.

IBM further demonstrated the next, yet unreleased version of Lotus Notes, code-named Hannover (it was introduced at the Hannover Fair last year).  Hannover will include support for service-oriented architecture, composite applications, activity-centric computing, and support for server-managed clients.

On the IBM Workplace front, IBM announced availability of Workplace Collaboration Services 2.6, Workplace Managed Client 2.6, Workplace Forms 2.6, and Workplace Designer 2.6.  A major highlight was Workplace Forms, allowing companies to capture business data that exists or is created on paper, so it can be processed and integrated with back-end corporate data and applications.

So, dear reader, you can see it’s been a busy day here – and it’s only Day One of Lotusphere.  I’m sure we’ll have more insights soon.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

IBM’s WorldJam

Tuesday, May 29th, 2001 by Jonathan Spira

Invited: 320,000 of your closest friends.

Over the past few weeks, I was one of the very few outsiders to be briefed on – and view in action – WorldJam, a 72-hour-long online community event hosted by IBM to which all of its 320,000 employees were invited.  Although I will be writing about this in greater depth in an upcoming research report, I wanted to share some initial observations and insights with you.

WorldJam is a set of tools and an environment that were integrated to support a 72-hour online community brainstorming session.  The goals were threefold:

1.)    To tackle ten “thorny” business problems
2.)    To report to colleagues on best practices
3.)    To “jam” with friends and colleagues

For the past nine months, IBM, under the direction of Mike Wing, IBM’s Director, Worldwide Intranet Strategy and Programs, has been planning and rehearsing this marathon community event. Wing’s Corporate Intranet Team worked in conjunction with several other areas of IBM, namely Corporate Marketing, IBM Research, and Strategic Web Application and Technology (SWAT).

There are several levels at which one can view WorldJam.  First, the technology itself.  Second, the issues which were at the heart of the WorldJam discussions.  Third, the collective knowledge and wisdom of the company which WorldJam brings together for 72 hours.  And fourth, as an extraordinary scientific experiment in online collaboration, and the ramifications which it raises.  Today I concentrate largely on the first.

At the core of WorldJam were ten asynchronous discussion databases, or forums, each led by a moderator/expert in the field, assisted by trained staffers.  Each forum had a topic and a question, e.g. “Supplying the Glue: More than 25% of IBMers are ‘mobile’ – telecommuting, working on customer premises, teaming with geographically dispersed colleagues.  What do you do to avoid ‘IBM’ = ‘I’m By Myself’?”.

The next logical issue to tackle was how people might participate in WorldJam.  By the end of WorldJam, over individual 50,000 employees had stopped by; it will take a while to study the statistics in greater detail, but, even in a group of 50,000 people, participation runs along the lines which one might expect.  Some IBMers would stop by and  mine a few nuggets.  Others came to impart and share their knowledge.  Others hunkered down and jammed, and still others formed breakout groups which launched real-time (synchronous) discussions relating to one of the ten topics.

The WorldJam project can be viewed in four phases:
- Preparatory/planning (9 months)
- Live (72 hours)
- Immediate Follow-up (several weeks)
- Long-term resource (infinite going forward)

WorldJam also offered diversions, including “branded” music, and games, which were two applets in the Thinking Tools section called “Words” (a kind of online refrigerator magnet game) and “Music” (a nod to WorldJam’s musical heritage?).

One of my favorites pieces of technology was the WorldJam Activity Map, which uses IBM Gryphon Server technology [which is based on Java Messaging service (JMS)].  IBM describes Gryphon as a publish/subscribe message broker system, the type which could be used for real-time online sports score distribution.  Here Gryphon tracked visitors on the WorldJam site.  The Activity Map also used a custom-statistics server and a JDBC Data Access API.  The statistics themselves were stored in DB2.  Activity Map created a geographic record (i.e., a real-time view of the world) of participants’ activities, and a forum-by-forum record (created by connecting to the Gryphon server and subscribing to the statistics channel) which fed real-time activity, then displayed a geographic record of participants’ activity and a forum-by-forum participant record.

Another personal favorite was a  tool developed for WorldJam, the “JamBroker,” which uses XML and XML Parser to create and match groups of people for a random jam.

The discussion forums used Lotus Notes and servlets, which integrated Notes content together with HTML all on one Web page.  The discussion functionality (comments, replies, voting, etc.) was all managed through Notes, which stored the information in a Notes database.  Servlets generated and managed the moderator’s comments which appeared on each of the ten forums.  Every discussion forum page contained an applet referred to as a “digital heartbeat,” which tracked user activity in real time.  This sent its information back to Gryphon.

Although time will tell how WorldJam and its wealth of intellectual activity and knowledge will be both viewed and utilized in future, the WorldJam team was already making notes for WorldJam’s progeny.  A few ideas I would add would be to add foreign language support (after all, it’s WORLDJam), and to consider having a specific opening and closing activity, both to warm participants up, and to give an appropriate ending to such a landmark event.

The scope and magnitude of a WorldJam-like event is an investment that very few companies could undertake.  Of those that are in fact able, none except for IBM has undertaken an online community/knowledge management event on this scale.  IBM effectively invited all of its 320,000+ employees to not only participate in pragmatic discussions with the possibility of immediate impact, but opened the door for all to partake in embarking upon significant cultural change, with all IBMers taking an active role in their own destinies.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Virtual Corporate Community

Friday, January 2nd, 1998 by Jonathan Spira

1998 should be the year of what we at The Basex Group have named the “Virtual Corporate Community”.

Groupware, long the supposed enabler of Collaborative Computing, has never really taken off.  Yes, there are umpteen million Lotus Notes seats, and for many, Notes has been a tremendous enabler of Collaborative Computing.  But it is not ubiquitous and Notes alone does not a virtual community make.

Virtual Communities, as electronic watering holes, have taken on a certain chicness in the past year, especially due to the ease of access created by heightened awareness of the Internet.  A Virtual Community is perhaps best defined as an electronic means of bringing people together, where they can develop meaningful on-line and real-life relationships.  This often takes the form of chat rooms and bulletin board-style discussion forums. A “community”, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary , is “a group of people living in the same locality and under the same government” and “a social group or class having common interests”.  If one infers that a portion of Cyberspace is a locality then an amalgam of these two definitions comes fairly close to defining a “Virtual Community”.

The first Virtual Community was perhaps the MsgGroup, an electronic discussion formed in 1975 by Steve Walker, an ARPA program manager.  The then-existing network community needed, he wrote, “to develop a sense of what is mandatory, what is nice and what is not desirable in message services.” [Walker: "Completion Report: ARPA Network Development", Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Information Processing Techniques Office, Washington, D.C. January 1978.]  The dialogue that ensued over the next ten years created a community of peers, many having never come into personal contact with one another, but interacting as if they were long-time friends and colleagues, and also defined the standards for Internet messaging.

Thus, it may be observed, that the MsgGroup brought people together to discuss a specific business issue but also met our amalgamated definition of “community.”

The on-line services usually identified as pioneering Virtual Communities, such as The Well, started with a different mandate.  The Well sought to bring together people who shared values similar to those of the Whole Earth catalog, the organization that started the service.  Interestingly enough, The Well’s community did not exist only in the on-line world; it also sponsored an open house “pot lock” party every month for many years.

In the business world, corporate management looks to such tools as Collaborative Computing and Knowledge Management to bring the best people together, collaborating on projects and sharing expertise.  Unfortunately, when project teams are formed, the people who put the team together must make such decisions largely based on whom they know or know of.  Since many larger corporations are far-flung organizations and are not known for encouraging casual contact, the universe from which a selection is made is often very limited and can leave the best people off the team, simply because they are unknown to the team leader.  In an interview I recently had with a major software company that creates software for the purpose of collaboration and teamwork, it was stated that the assumption was that the their customers would create teams based on known entities, limiting the value of the important collaborative tools that they produce.

But what if corporations had a way for their people to interact, in an on-line corporate setting, with others of like interests, for the purpose of furthering overall enterprise-wide knowledge sharing and pooling of information?

Just as the Industrial Age widened people’s physical mobility tremendously, expanding an individual’s universe from their small area of town to (minimally) an entire city or metropolitan area, the Information Age has heightened that mobility to hundreds of millions of (interconnected) users.  However, in the business world, even within the same corporation, individuals are still largely limited by physical proximity because they have no means of interacting with other employees unless they are assigned to the same project or meet one another through happenstance.  That results in seas of resources remaining untapped which could result in an individual’s reinventing the wheel or, worse, to spinning his wheels without result.

The Information Age has brought a certain proximity to strangers in a social setting.  Yet Corporate America, which does not encourage what it considers unnecessary (read: “unprofitable”) communication through its computer networks, has yet to realize that information workers could learn to interact with one another on a higher level there, and on a more productive basis to boot. If employees had a platform with which they could be casually exposed to the variety of skills and talents within a given organization  before the “moment of truth” occurred, the result would most likely be greater productivity and job satisfaction.

By using computers to mediate the exchanges between information workers, both social and professional interaction will be impacted greatly.  To a large extent, this has already begun to take place.  A mere decade ago, virtually all interaction between individuals in disparate locations occurred through the mail, the phone or, occasionally, facsimile.  Nowadays we exchange all sorts of ideas and even conduct negotiations via electronic mail, resorting upon occasion to such other new technologies as voice mail and individualized video conferencing.  We see the beginnings of groups holding meetings in a “chat” environment on line, and these settings have been largely accepted by the on-line community for social interaction.  Universities have been requiring students to purchase computers for some time, and some professors have been using the Internet as a virtual classroom, not once convening the class in person.

The concept of the Virtual Corporate Community may lead to a rather schizophrenic lifestyle, as information workers find it possible to enjoy life in a pastoral village while maintaining an virtualized urban existence as a member of the Community.  This new breed of worker will enjoy the ability to interact as handily with colleagues in Frankfurt and Sydney and many other major metropolitan areas.  Who knows?  These colleagues may very well be in non-urban settings as well, and the downtown “business district” as we know it may become more of an information management center than a place to go to work.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.  This article originally appeared in the Basex Online Journal of Industry and Commerce (BOJIC).


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