Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Contextual Collaboration Is The Future Of Real-Time Conferencing Technologies

Sponsored Links

Why do users need to leave any "core" application and open up a new tool to do Web conferencing?

Isn't it more natural for you to go to the Edit menu and say: "Share with - Jim Lellis"?

When I talk about contextual collaboration I intend to describe the concept of online collaboration in which real-time features are a built-in components of a standard application and where no one has to leave his production tool in order to share, send or collaborate with others at-a-distance.

Contextual collaboration is the promise

"to take network executives away from monolithic collaboration platforms and into a world of reusable components that can be embedded in any application.

The first companies that have understood this are not the Web conferencing companies as we know them today but rather the large enterprise giants as IBM/Lotus, Microsoft, Novell and Oracle. The enterprises have been busy deconstructing their collaboration facilities in reusable and independent components to be integrated and utilized in any core enterprise application.

The term originally coined by Meta GroupMatt Cain (vice president of Web and Collaborations Strategies) over two decades ago, will become one of the key areas of focus for online collaboration in the coming years.

But which are some of the typical components of Contextual Collaboration:

a) Presence awareness - this is normally confused with instant messaging. Presence awareness is indeed a specific functionality of typical instant messaging clients allowing and making possible the actual instant messaging functionality. The ability to "see" and be able to reach out to direct contacts, friends and team-mates is in my opinion at the very core of online collaboration.

b) Conversation - this is the ability to talk, exchange and discuss as smoothly and transparently as possible. VoIP is the preferred route. Text chat can be an alternative. Asynchronous discussion threads a further road nearby.

c) Object sharing - to collaborate we need to be able to share and exchange document, tools, information. The ability to share any of these with ease and immediacy is of essence to the task of effectively replicating our long-formed expectations for working together.

d) Shared workspaces - we don't collaborate suspended in the air. Like in physical space we normally need a bare minimum of a facility to carry out our work. A minimum of a desk, a set of archival drawers, writing and editing tools and whatever we feel needed for the type of collaboration at hand. A collaborative space is the necessary environment to carry out work with the needed basic support facilities.

Indeed, as only few real-time collaboration companies seem to have understood so far, instant messaging may be the very best pivot point around which to build effective collaboration and meeting opportunities.

It is from an instant messaging session that I normally initiate a collaboration session, as it is from there that I normally decide to initiate the sharing and discussion of selected work items. It is with those that I have already selected as my preferred contacts that I am indeed more prone to intimately collaborate. With those that are "virtually near", accessible and digitally "close". Those that have accepted me as a direct contact, and whom I can call to show and exchange at any time.

The revolution is indeed called contextual collaboration, which means that collaboration tools such as instant messaging, calendars, teamware, Web conferencing and discussion databases should not be separate applications but components with standard interfaces." Source: NetworkWorldFusion Jan, 6th 2003

Contextual collaboration makes good sense and has the potential to yield a more productive, more satisfying workplace. People want to get their jobs done, not spend time learning to use yet another specialized computer program to look up particular information.
Source: Windows Network Magazine

Contextual collaboration is the essence for intimate teamwork and actual co-operation on practical tasks.

Instead of working in one application to learn a fact then using another collaborative application to convey that fact or take action based on that fact, people [should be able to] can learn, do, archive, and retrieve all from the same user interface.

...Over time, many collaborative features, such as presence awareness, instant messaging, real-time conferencing, file exchange, and virtual workspaces, will be embedded into other business applications...

Source: IDC June 29, 2001

In the near future you will see more and more collaboration technologies gradually fade into the background of the user interface and becoming "extensions" of core, basic applications.

While it may be effective to hire a whole software infrastructure to run a large conference or a busy multi-day online workshop, it would be absolutely nonsense to fire up a new application every time I want to share, send or collaborate with a teammate over a document.

"You start to break down collaborative services into manageable chunks that can be called from anywhere," says Ken Winell, president of Econium, which develops XML-based applications. "We call these components 'skinless.' The functionality is there, and you can layer them into any interface."
Source: NetworkWorldFusion Jan, 6th 2003

The natural step should be Edit -> Share, and then to select who I want to invite from my list of contacts or my integrated presence awareness engine (an evolved instant messenger) reporting to me who of my colleagues and friends is presently available and online.

So, it would appear that online collaboration could be categorized in quite a number of different levels related to the complexity, audience size, and level of formality and security required rather than around features and core functionalities provided.

While in fact the market is now labelled and categorized around terms like Web conferencing, real-time conferencing, audio conferencing, videoconferencing and live presentation tools the direction we will be seeing emerge is going to lead us to see more terms like:

a) large conference center

b) workshop suite

c) personal one-to-one collaboration space

d) community room

e) small conference room

f) breakout space

that is "shared" or collaborative spaces in which to meet and co-operate as well as around "actions" terms like:

a) share

b) show

c) send

d) play

e) co-edit

f) hand-over

g) annotate

which are the actual "actions" we take on in real life to collaborate together.

I could then categorize one type of collaboration as an informal and more intimate type of activity with close contacts and team-mates, from another type of collaboration, like formal presentations and live conferences, where policies, orderly exchange and moderation features play a much important role in making the actual "collaboration" truly successful.

As you can see, by just looking a bit under the lid of this boiling teapot, a fascinating view of how the world of online collaboration and Web conferencing is going to unfold is suddenly revealed.

If it appears so different and disconnected from the tools and technologies you have been exposed to so far, it is only because we are only at the very beginning of this majestic change and we are yet to fully understand and integrate our humanly driven needs for effective work with the tremendous and limitless capabilities of these new powerful technologies.

Time will show that collaboration is indeed a contextual extension of our normal activities and only rarely a specific, dedicated and separately set activity.

Definition Of Contextual Collaboration:

Depending on the circumstances under which an event occurs or depending on the setting.

To work together especially in a joint intellectual effort.

Related articles:

It's all about context
By John Fontana
Network World, 02/04/02

Collaborative software ages slowly
By John Fontana
Network World, 01/06/03

From ICE Age To Contextual Collaboration
Robert Mahowald, Senior Research Analyst,
Collaborative Computing
June 29th, 2001

Contextual Collaboration: What is it & Why does it Matter?
IBM/Lotus Webcast
(28, 56, 200 Kbps streams - registration req'd)

Real-Time Collaboration in Context
The Medium: When every context is wired for collaboration, and collaboration is only a click away, the costs of setting context will fall to zero.
by Stowe Boyd
November 10, 2003

Readers' Comments    
blog comments powered by Disqus
posted by Robin Good on Saturday, October 25 2003, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

Search this site for more with 








    Curated by

    New media explorer
    Communication designer


    POP Newsletter

    Robin Good's Newsletter for Professional Online Publishers  



    Real Time Web Analytics