Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

The Future Of Online Collaboration

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Seven questions to explore potential, opportunities and threats of our future online.

Here is the second interview about the future Web conferencing though this really represents an appetizer for a second set of interviews to start in December and focussing specifically on the future of online collaboration, beyond the limits and borders dictated by what traditionally Web conferencing has come to mean.

In the studio, beyond the glass window in front of me sits Wes Kussmaul, a great thinking mind who has been part of the Internet revolution from the very beginning.

In the early 90s Wes was one of the original founders founder of Delphi Internet Services one of the very first Internet service providers together with AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy.

Wes bring a rich and richly textured set of answers to my array of rapid fire questions about how our online collaboration future is going to look like.

Wes' focus and attention are strongly locked onto issues of privacy, authentication and on new metaphors through which we may best interpret the fascinating upcoming traits of our online future. His view of Web conferencing technologies and how they will need to open up to understand aspects long underestimated is refreshing and unique.

After having talked to too many buttoned-up blue suits in the conferencing industry I am gratified to hear the voice of a true-outsider, one that has gone all the way inside the problem to understand it, question it and paint a new vision around it.

How are we going to work, exchange and collaborate online when we can't be sure that the person we are hearing, reading or even looking at is really who she says she is? Think about it for a moment.

What about if, in an online conference, one sHe comes up and says "I am an international digital crime officer from the UN, please give me your IP." What kind credentials are you going to ask to the guy? That sHe shows you hir badge?

How are you going to manage this one? Through Microsoft Passport?

Wes opens up some space for thinking about these issues and leaves us impatiently waiting for the release of its encyclopedic work (400+ pages) originally titled "Beyond Palladium: Bring security with privacy to your networks and your life".

As he handwrote on the first inside page of a reviewers copy he sent me a few months ago, I wish to synergize in supporting the open discussion around the critical issues of privacy and authentication as they may indeed be vital to our ability to extend to the virtual world some of the certainties and comforts we have come to expect from the physical one:

Let's Make It Happen!

"The Future of Online Collaboration"
Seven questions to explore potential, opportunities and threats of our future online.

An interview between Robin Good and Wes Kussmaul

1. What kind of tools do you think we will see in a year from now?
And in three?

A year from now we will see high quality realtime conferencing tools. They are already available, but I mean we will SEE them in the sense that they will be visible in both the marketplace of ideas and the marketplace of products.

2. What do you think is the most misunderstood concept about online collaboration and how it should be like? (That one thing that if done differently would radically change the way think of Web conferencing or real-time collaboration online.)

The most misunderstood concept is the difference between a bar and a conference room. Here's what I mean by that.

Web chat rooms and forums that are open to the public or accessible with a minimum of authentication are bars. They are frequented by people who want to do everything from discussing ideas to looking for a mate. They are seldom used for exchange of information that is important to the pursuit of the agenda of a specific group, because they provide very little assurance of the identities of the people in the meeting. That is, they provide very little security and privacy.

Participants may not be conscious of the distinction; they just feel uneasy about discussing serious business when they don't feel confident in the security of the premises.

The direct implication is that the value of a collaboration space is proportional to not just the quality and features of the technology, but the rigor by which the identities of participants are verified at the time that access credentials are issued. If I know that I can trust the identities of those present, then work can get done. There is a huge increase in the value proposition when you cross over that confidence hurdle.

3. In which ways are the SOHO and "enterprise" markets substantially different when it comes to Web conferencing, live presentations and real-time collaboration?

SOHO markets seem to have better tools at a fraction of the cost when compared with "enterprise" markets. This seems counter-intuitive but there is plenty of precedent. Consumer products are often of better quality than their industrial counterparts.

4. Why companies having 100,000 or 10,000,000 collaboration tools out in the market (instant messengers) have not been able to capitalize on their reach, while comparatively small firms in the enterprise market have been able to repeatedly scout the best margins in the industry?

That's because companies buy things from vendors that are represented through channels. B2B marketing channels are costly. They involve sales reps and physical offices and complicated, expensive relationships. But all those suits give the customer confidence that the product will be scalable and well-supported. It's ironic, but to sell an online presence product you have to put a person on an airplane and use physical presence to sell it.

This will change, of course. Companies that can shake the physical mobility habit will have a tremendous advantage in years to come. See the early history of the use of the telephone in business for the precedent.

5. What do you think it would be the ideal business model of the future when it comes to real-time collaboration? And which one do you think will prevail?

Here I must cite my own model, called the Quiet Enjoyment Infrastructure, which rigorously applies the metaphor of commercial real estate to the online space. What purpose do highways serve? To bring you to buildings. What purpose should information highways serve? To bring you to buildings. Don't be put off by the model's simplicity; it really works.

6. Can you name three Web conferencing or real-time collaboration tools that you have used and that you think are truly outstanding?

SiteScape (asynchronous) (I am biased; we helped develop it when it was Digital's Workgroup Web Forum, and Groove (sync and async) plus Voxwire which you helped me discover both.

7. Who do you think has got the best shot at developing a technology close to what we really need?

It is open season right now, but the first to take authentication seriously and offer high quality enrollment services will provide real value to groups that really want to pursue an agenda online.

8. This is not a rhetoric question nor a marketing hook. If you were to study, research or find out more about alternatives to "enterprise" technologies for web collaboration to which resources or contacts would you turn to?

What a leading question! :)
But it is true, Robin Good's Guide is the place to look.

9. How are the enterprises changing with the growing adoption of these new collaboration tools?

See all those office space vacancies? Note that Sun Microsystems is closing tens of thousands of square feet of office space? Note also that the majority of seats on airplanes that used to be occuppied by business travelers are now either empty or occuppied by tourists.

The huge cost of physical workspaces and compulsive travel is going away.

Your software development staff is now in India -- and you've never met them! In person, that is.

Coming up: contractors and freelancers doing work from home that used to be done by employees. In the U.S. the place of work has a lot to do with whether a company must pay employment taxes on a person who performs work. So telecommuting saves more than rent and travel cost.

10. What do you think is the greatest obstacle to standardization and interoperability of these collaboration tools?

We need a coherent model that is based upon architecture, rather than a bunch of standards that simply define how software and hardware widgets(i.e. construction materials) plug into each other. I know that will come, because I know that necessity is the mother of invention.

11. How do you see the future of small companies developing Web collaboration products?

Brilliant, if they can

1) hang in there and

2) take authentication seriously.

12. Can you describe your ideal dream conferencing/collaboration system in its main characteristics?

1. Supports strongly authenticated identies with strong access and privilege controls

2. Smooth integration of asyncronous and synchronous features

3. Solid document collaboration

4. High quality VOIP

13. What are your thoughts on the purchase of PlaceWare by Microsoft? How will this affect WebEx?

If PlaceWare/Microsoft Live Meeting can demonstrate to its users and the market that it is free of hidden agendas, then it will be difficult to compete with. However, that will not happen. Therefore it will simply serve to apply Microsoft's considerable marketing resources to the process of educating the market, benefiting WebEx.

14. Is Microsoft bound to become a key player in this industry?

No. See above.

15. Where do you stand in respect to Microsoft DRM strategy, TCPA/Palladium and their restrictions on interoperability of MSN with other instant messengers?

I call this the Local Crypto Infrastructure. To be trusted, the LCI must be provided by a neutral organization that represents real authority, an NGO modeled after an agency like the ITU or a professional association or some other organization with real authority, where access to its services is according to enforceable due process, not the whims of some commercial enterprise.

Microsoft doesn't seem to get it: it wants to be a government but it is not and cannot be a government.

It's not just the public that won't accept it: Remember what happened to HailStorm when Microsoft blithely expected its partners such as American Express to accept itself as the custodian of all the world's customer relationships? In other words, remember what happened to Microsoft when it expected its partners to accept it as the commerce department of the UN? The partners couldn't stop laughing. HailStorm went nowhere? What on earth was Microsoft thinking? Oh yes, they thought they were the UN.

I have much more confidence in things like Phoenix CmE which, after all, is already installed in a huge number of computers. People don't know it but it's there.

16. Would SOHO customers be better served by the WebEx and MS of the world or by local smaller companies?

I think they would be better served by a new kind of ISP/ASP/community government service which makes use of technology provided by technology vendors. The widget makers will not control this market but rather those who manage facilities according to global standards. It's a real estate business, not a technology business.

17. What do you think are enterprise Web conferencing companies biggest marketing mistakes?

Using hypothetical conferences with fake contributions from fake members of an audience, rather than just putting the tools in the hands of the group and letting them see for themselves how well it works.

Fake conferences are beyond dull, they are embarrassing and they do not sell anyone on collaboration.


About the author

Wes Kussmaul is a visionary thinker and writer. He is author of an upcoming book originally entitled "Beyond Palladium: Bring security with privacy to your networks and your life", which toutes with encyclopedic precision and breadth the reasons and motives for the future of online authentication.

Mr. Kussmaul was the sole founder in 1981 of Delphi Internet Services Corporation, "The Company That Popularized The Internet." At the time it was sold to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation in 1993, Delphi was among the four largest online services, along with AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy.

In 1986, while CEO of Delphi, Mr. Kussmaul launched a spinoff, Global Villages Incorporated to serve magazine publishers and business clients with their own private-label online services. During the next twelve years Global provided business planning, design, engineering, hosting, management and promotion services for Digital Equipment Corporation, William F. Buckley's National Review, BioTechniques, Hardcopy, International Business, Business Digest, and many other companies and magazines. Global's hosting business was sold in 1998 to WingNet, Inc. and is now a part of Verio, Inc.

Readers' Comments    
2004-02-12 14:32:20


I think many small businesses do not need the real-time tools. Asynchronous tools that support a project-centric Web page will be all that is needed.

2003-11-25 13:31:13

Kiran NS

I think the speakers should also talk numbers here... Else it all sounds like a big "I think I like this" & "I don't think I like that" kind of dialogue... Numbers are what finally gets the market going forward. No requirements are the same. So for a target market segment, what works and how many use it is what matters at the end of the day...

posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, October 1 2003, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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