Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, July 25, 2003

Groove: Vision Required

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The reasons for my two posts on Groove in these last 48 hours is due to the fact that, I have long celebrated Groove and its unique qualities.

As I wrote before I truly believe Groove to be a breakthrough tool.

I do think Groove is a breakthrough tool. I do think that it can do things that I cannot do anywhere else.

Nonetheless there are many aspects about Groove that motivate me to question the solutions adopted and the possible evolution of this tool.

I thank Dr. Rick Lillie of California State at San Bernardino for his prompt and extensive comments about my article "Groove: Ten Good Reasons Not To Buy". His natural reaction has been one of fairly defending the good points and key strengths that Groove indeed appears to have.

I recommend Dr. Lillie and everyone else to read also my previous articles about Groove so that you can have a more balanced view and understanding of my evaluation of Groove (which I have honoured with a BestBuy recommendation in my Official Guide) and of my reporting approach and style.

On the other hand I would like to take the opportunity to utilize Dr. Lillie's valuable comments to pin down a few more strategic issues about Groove which would provide for a more comprehensive framework in which to discuss and questioning Groove's pros and cons.

"I read your article about reasons not to buy Groove. While I agree with some of your comments, for the most part, I disagree with your conclusions.

I am an accounting professor at California State University at San Bernardino. I have been using Groove for approximately four years both to support traditional classes and to deliver distance-learning classes."

Yes, it is good to look at Groove as a distance training or e-learning tool. Frankly I think that this may well be one of the very best applications that Groove may be used for. The variety and richness of features and facilities makes it applications in the real and virtual classrooms infinite and its rich interface may appeal too many students who like tools that require exploration versus those that offer immediate and intuitive ease of use.
(Let me kindly note that Groove has only been available since the fall of the year 2000. Less than three years overall.)

To date, I am very pleased with what my students have been able to do with the Groove workspace. I teach a variety of online courses for CalState - San Bernardino and for UCLA Extension. I use Groove at CalState and Blackboard at UCLA Extension. In my opinion, "featurewise" Groove stands head and shoulders above Blackboard.

Groove is indeed a great tool and as I have clearly stated in my previous posts about it, a truly unique and revolutionary one.

Its limited scalability fits well the size of typical learning groups, and its group functions are just an absolute godsend for a whole set of training activities and assignments. If you have the hardware to run it on I'd give it again a 4-star rating as I have done before.

On the other hand I personally I would never compare Groove with an LMS, but if somebody out there takes permission to do so, I think it is worthwhile to look and understand what is going on exactly. Groove can create databases, but does not have native roster management features, grading applications, testing and polling facilities and document management and publishing facilities. Yes, it can leverage some swift third-party applications to do some of these tasks, but how well does it compete with those real LMS when it comes to the management of a large set of courses? It can't even compete. It can't scale and it can't match the speed of those systems. Period.

Of course if you are having a course with 20 students here and another one with 35 there, Blackboard is of relative advantage to you. I can see you liking all of the frills and additional features that Blackboard can't give you. But any serious LMS was born with a different goal in mind. Supporting a school or university training infrastructure in creating, managing and delivering courses in a reliable, organized and consistent way. Not something you can claim Groove ever claimed to offer or that you can make it do for your campus.

So, as long as we are a bit clearer about what we intend for e-learning and what we should then expect from an application we can make some useful comparison between Groove and other products.

If the race is the one of which collaboration tool can offer me the greatest number of features, then I must fully agree. But is this a good criterion? The only one we should use in evaluating an e-learning application?

You also compare Groove to Blackboard and I am glad of this as I normally don't consider the two tools in the same category. But as I understand from you, and have heard from others before, Groove can be indeed matched against Blackboard as an e-learning, asynchronous platform. I have a hard time with this comparison because while Blackboard (like WebCT and many other ones) is what you correctly categorize as an LMS (Learning Management System), Groove is certainly not. You can make Groove do things similar to those that you can do in Blackboard but what is the great advantage in using all that processing power to do database management tasks which are at the core of any LMS? (I really don't see the point in using Groove to do LMS but I may have to learn something from you on this.)

If you are saying "Hey, but with Groove I can do some of that database management, scheduling, roster, calendar and the like (in a much less sophisticated way, believe me) plus I have all those great real-time collaboration features" then I understand what you like Groove for. You can do anything you want with it. For that matter then you can compare it with any application and Groove will always be better. It may not be that specialized, but hey, it has all those great extra features!

For example, I agree with your comment about Groove's Voice-over-IP. I prefer to use "Net2Phone" with my students. We can talk "live" PC-2-PC for free while working together in the Groove workspace.

I am glad I am seeing others taking the same route to circumvent Groove own idiosyncrasies. I myself power-up a Voxwire voice-room in the background and work with my colleagues around the world with an audio quality that is better than on the phone. I must recommend to all those still using Net2Phone that there is a bunch of new tools out there that do perform one million times better than N2P and that are hundreds of times easier to use. (For more info please see my SOHO Conferencing Guide.

Your comments about use of bandwidth and computer resources are true to a point. However, I think that you ignore the fact that personal computers are becoming stronger and are much more capable of handling the technology demands of programs like Groove. I tell my students that their distance-learning experience will be much better if they have a fast Internet connection, lots of RAM memory, a fast computer processor, and a large-capacity hard drive. With this said, I have been able to successfully use Groove with students who use AOL as their 56K dialup ISP, so long as, their computer has at least a Pentium III class processor and a minimum of 128 MB of RAM memory. Experience has proven that 256 MB of RAM works better with a 56K dialup user.

You are just plain lucky. I still have many working contacts, even in first world countries such as Canada, UK, France and Australia who still go by with 28.8 and 33.6 connections. Yes, they may not be hot corporate hotshots or university professors but may likely belong to that large pool made up of your potential students. Are you also discounting off India, South America and all the rest of us in "normal countries" like Italy or Thailand? Is your e-learning just for the US?

Though computers do get replaced more frequently nowadays, I do have also several contacts that do not have latest generation computers nonetheless they operate their business on these machines on a daily basis.

So if Groove targets its Ferrari engines to people who do have Ferrari chassis, everyone is going to be very happy. Groove could even charge more for its tool. On the other hand if potential customers are led into thinking that with their Toyota chassis Groove can make them go like a Ferrari, everyone is going to be very disappointed.

Not only.

People who don't have the processing power and Internet connection to handle Groove will just end up hating it and uninstalling after a few frustrating attempts at making it do something other than spinning the hard disk forever.

Target the full Groove to those who can afford to make it shine. Diversify and modularize Groove for all others who want to pray but can't buy the whole cathedral.

Hype it for those who can enjoy it.

Scale it down and diversify it for those who don't have as much horsepower to invest.

For me, using Groove is like having a personal assistant. Groove comes to me with information. I do not have to go to Groove to discover that something has changed. Blackboard and similar LMS programs cannot say this.

I don't think that Blackboard or WebCT where ever meant to do the things you would want them to do.

I humbly think that this comparison maybe unfair to Blackboard and other LMSs as they never attempted or pretended to offer any such extra functionality.

Rather I would like you to better outline Groove strengths in terms of LMS features and facilities and how they compare to the same ones inside Blackboard and WebCT.

Further, for Groove to be informing you at all times as you describe, you must be running that double-deck truck all along and all the time. Not all people are willing or can afford to do that. But again it comes back as being an issue of for what audience you are shooting for and what technology is actually available to them.

Like all programs, Groove has its technical strengths and weaknesses. However, it has a very significant financial strength that the major LMS programs cannot claim. Groove is inexpensive.

I can't argue with this one. Groove is truly inexpensive for what it has to offer. I give it not four, but five stars on this front. Actually, let me add: with such a price, you should really wonder why Groove is not making much bigger inroads into the market and whether my comments here and in the previous article are so off the wall.

Part of my research work is looking to see if Groove can be used as a low-cost alternative to the high-priced LMS programs. If this can be demonstrated, then in the world of tight academic budgets, Groove (or something similar) could become very popular.

With enough quality information, and good communication skills anything can be demonstrated. It would be easy to show that Groove has more to offer than Blackboard, but not for the things that make Blackboard so popular. I think, without trying to be offensive, that this is like comparing apples with oranges.
What would be the categories of comparison between the two?

I do not believe that any software development company holds the keys to technology heaven. Nor am I a fan of the companies that offer what I call "Doc-in-a-box" programs (i.e., this program does everything, so long as you do it my way).

I am very sorry to say this but the above just sounds like a perfect description for Groove. It wants to be everything to everyone, and I have tried telling it to do things the way I liked it but, on my PC, it hasn't responded.

If Groove can be an LMS for you I don't see why it can't be whatever else anyone else may need to be. And that is the consequence of its marketing strategy, not a mere coincidence.

The greatest areas for improvement of Groove are its interface, closely followed by the logic of its engineering, and by smart diversification and modularization of some of its components.

The path and the infrastructure are already in place, and it is only a matter of investing the right minds and resources in making this possible in the short term.

I know that Groove is working hard at this and that it is not resting on its laurels, but to achieve the traction and market momentum it needs I see Groove needing to make some fundamental decisions while asking itself some very serious questions:

1) Is this a collaboration tool or is it a desktop productivity tool?

2) If it is a collaboration tool, how long will it take for Groove to realize that asynchronous and synchronous conferencing are perfectly complementary and need to be equally supported in an effective collaboration environment?

3) When you collaborate in real life do you change your clothes and make-up while equipping yourself with a suitcase of new tools? Don't you just sit down with your "standard" tools and start to draw notes, schemes and ideas as you are talking to someone else? Can you do this with Groove? If not completely, what separates Groove from allowing you to do this in full?

4) How cumbersome is to load a Caterpillar escavator in your trunk when you want to go dig some holes on the beach with the kids? Likewise Groove needs to decide if it is going to disappear inside Microsoft Office (a-la-Tenix) making my collaboration tasks effortless and absolutely natural or it is going to give me the full swing of a Caterpillar, but then I expect VoIP, video, app sharing and even networking facilities and personal publishing tools to make my content available to the public. Which of the two? Both?

5) Is Groove going to be smart enough and while acknowledging internally its natural, physiologic limitations, start to market its weaknesses as actual strengths?

6) What is preventing Groove and the great minds working for it to see that what it has to address are application tasks and not target audiences and markets as traditional marketing would suggest?

7) If Groove is a collaboration tool why it offers me so little in the way of networking and hooking up with others that use the same tool. This would seem a highly neglected area and one that holds tremendous potential. If Groove becomes useless once the project or class is over, why doesn't Groove create a built-in mechanism for social networking that makes Groove the ideal tool to network before and after a project or a class? What about a serious profile page? FOAF?

8) Can Groove realize that its best features are the ones that are most intuitive to use? Can Groove extend the metaphor of virtual collaboration and abandon altogether the metaphor of a full desktop application (at least when possible)?

9) Can Groove miss to see its killer competitor coming along way too soon than expected and die out of elephantiasis?

10) How open is Groove "intelligence" to really listen to users and to think again out of the box what it still takes to realize the killer collaboration tool we would all be so happy to adopt?

As said in the beginning, I have long celebrated Groove and I thought it was only due for me to balance some of those positive notes with a complementary and opposite viewpoint.

Groove is a visionary tool and as such it needs a company with a vision. A vision possibly not dictated by technological politics nor by too many marketing interests. The vision must be one about people collaborating online, easily, intuitively, effortlessly. It is through this vision that Groove may become a killer application of the future, instead of loosing itself in a maze of technical facilities and features.

I believe that it is from this critical analysis that Groove can grow most and improve itself to the point of becoming a really effective collaboration tool.

But I do see also Groove shortcomings. They appear to be strategic rather than functional. What I see is a bunch of trees being mistaken for the whole forest.

To me, the more transparent Groove will be to its users (meaning "invisible") the more I will be able to devote myself to real collaboration rather than having to worry about which-function-to-turn-on-to-do-what-I-want-to-do.

Echo: "Groove is a tool that needs a vision behind it. Not a technologically-bred vision, nor a marketing instilled one. A vision for what real, effective, intuitive collaboration means for real people online."

I hope my comments and vision are taken with due irony and perspective.
The goal here and in my previous article was to drive a specific point about Groove and its possible future, not certainly to bash and superficially criticize a tool that has evidently more merits than problems.

It is the rule of the market that Groove will need to do something to survive, to better understand what it is offering and how to best package this "experience" to those many ones, (I am certainly one) that would love to see it bloom.

Thanks again to Dr. Lillie of California State at San Bernardino for providing the right inspiration for this article.

Related entries:

  • Groove: Ten Good reasons Not To Buy

  • Online Collaboration At Its Best: Dig Your Groove And Start Creating Your Own Virtual Real Estate Spaces

  • Online Collaboration Templates For Groove-based Projects

  • Alternatives To YahooGroups

  • Looking For A Live Collaboration Tool? Save Tons Of Time! Live Expert Advice - Robin Good Helps You Select The Best Web Conferencing Tool Right Now

  • Find Out Now Which One Is The Best Collaboration Tool For You!

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    posted by Robin Good on Friday, July 25 2003, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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