Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Groove: The Peaceful Force

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Many people think that I am sold out on Groove. But if you read my rich literature on the subject you will see that things are not really so. In my personal reporting about this extraordinary technology I have kept throughout a good balance in highlighting Groove unique strengths and powerful features, while dutifully exposing its glaring limitations.


My approach to report and analyze collaboration technologies is mostly directed at extracting more practical information, real-benefits and effective usability of these tools rather than taking press releases and company information as elements one could use to actually write about these fascinating technologies.

As I have a long experience in the field of communication for development I became curious to find out more about the effective possibility of utilizing a technology like Groove in humanitarian projects and in contexts where high technologies have generally little opportunity to make inroads, to be easily adopted and to make a significant difference in reaching the operation objectives.

Prompted by a gentle contact via email I received from Info-Share in Sri-Lanka (a Groove partner company), I decided to further investigate the actual opportunities, lessons learned and findings that these people had apparently uncovered in the last few months.

My first obstacle along the way to find out more about Groove and its possible effective uses for peace-making processes was the amass of marketing materials I stumbled upon while searching on Groove's and Info-Share sites, which, not only alienated me with its way too polished jargon, but which provided very little information in the way of really understanding how the story went, and why success was being claimed nonetheless the apparent immense obstacles that such an endeavour was facing.

I decided therefore to uncover some of the missing information about Groove and its adventure into becoming a tool effectively deployed outside of the typical US enterprise.

The emerging concept, that a tool like this could be leveraged in truly helping different parties, political figures and international stakeholders to come together collaboratively, in a developing nation under civil unrest, and that it would be used to effectively open up and draw together ideas, resources and solutions to make Sri Lanka a peaceful and prosperous country again, was just too interesting and deserving of my attention to be dropped without some further research.

So, I contacted Sanjana Hattotuwa, at Info-Share in Sri Lanka and asked if I could submit a set of direct interview questions to him with the agreement that ALL the questions had to be answered and that replies had to be in my inbox within 48 hours.

He agreed.

Well, here is how it went.

I got written answers in time. The surprise to me was another one. During my editorial review process I had to delete as much pre-packaged marketing and sales material, Sanjana had added to his own answers, as nearly the amount of content that made it through to this very interview you are just about to read.

I don't know who directs the production and writing of these materials, nor I know if they came from the US or from the people in Sri Lanka. Fact is, that if they are meant to help potential new customers learn, appreciate and trust the Groove brand as their possible next collaborative solution, in my opinion, they fail badly at this.

Too many nice sentences, too little hard facts.

Though there is indeed lots of interesting information and new ideas to learn from this project, it appears as the need to market still dominates the communication style and approach of most of this marketing literature.

The hard-to-digest part for me, and do excuse me for being such an uninvited critic of this, is to see development and humanitarian issues taken up as opportunities for supposed prestigious marketing of technologies through the effective association of technology use to some noble cause.

While the core intent can be certainly admired, the means and the style in which this is carried out leaves lots to be desired to the eyes of those who have seriously helped collaboration projects in emergency and development areas and have reported in frankness, the true needs and requirements for working under such conditions.

Life has a different flavour when you work in understaffed, underbudgeted, truly dispersed, hard to reach and underpowered centers of unrest, or near where famine or true emergency has struck large numbers of people.

The panorama, view, smells and apparent needs are very different when you participate in this processes only from the comfortable and wired offices of powerful donors, many of which do not even have a foothold in the country or area of interest you are trying to support.

Though I like Groove as a company, I wish that in this specific instance it had better calculated the double-edged sword of marketing and promoting humanitarian work while not paying a comparable amount of attention in becoming as transparent, honest and true to the facts as the context and environment surrounding these events demand.

The using of well-phrased sentences, and of polite but meaningless text which glaringly lacks credible facts, data, and true hands on reporting, is so typical of the large enterprise marketing approach so familiar to US and traditional western companies, that they do not even see or perceive the striding effects exploding like sparks.

Excessively boasting what is evidently an impossible scenario could only dilute a company credibility.

Why, I ask, little or no information is devoted to what would come up as anyone's first set of questions about this project:

a) How did Info-Share get to select Groove over other solutions?

b) Why utilize such a computing intensive solution which requires high end PCs, with top of the line configurations and good Internet connectivity?

c) Wouldn't the use of such powerful and cutting-edge technology create more of a digital-divide between those able to access these tools (stakeholders, NGOs, other representative orgs) and those who could not afford them (professionals, the real people of Sri Lanka)?

d) Why not compensating the above outlined limits with tools and technologies that would have Groove extend its reach also to those with lower end computing machines and slow dial-up connections?

In my effort to uncover some of these issues, I threw a good number of these direct questions at Sanjana Hattotuwa of Info-Share.

Through his answers to my questions you will be able to better understand what doesn't work in this marketing fresco. Probably it all boils down to my uncomfort when trying to weed out corporate marketing buzz from real information. But that is hardly news to talk about. Or not?

Read for yourself and share your thoughts as comments at the bottom of this article.

Robin Good: What has been the driving reason for you to consider new collaboration tools to support a multi-cultural peace-making process?
Sanjana Hattotuwa: Information Communications Technology (ICT) in South Asia, as well as in the rest of the world, is an experiment in progress.

Reading the wealth of literature on ICT, it is easy to forget that it is not a panacea for problems facing developing nations.

Normative assumptions about ICT tend in most cases to outstrip knowledge of how technology is actually used .

ICTs cannot magically liberate people, alleviate poverty, erase the 'digital divide', and ensure prosperity.

Much of the literature written on ICT does not treat it as one factor amidst a myriad of others that shape inter-state and intra-state relations in developing countries.

Furthermore, in planning for and using ICT, many countries often concentrate on the intervention itself, rather than what they want to accomplish through it. It must be remembered that ICT is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
It was becoming quite obvious to everyone involved in the peace process that there was little or coherence or coordination within and between the many tiers of the peace building process.

Info-Share, my organization, was conceptualised as a framework that would help those involved in the peace process, from a grassroots activist to an information worker in a large multinational agency, to come together in a secure environment and exchange knowledge and information without the need to physically meet and discuss issues, worry about data loss via emails or FTP transfers, or worry about travel risks.

Furthermore, the multi-lingual capability of the Groove platform merely cemented its strength as a vehicle that could be used to disseminate and share information in the vernacular as well.

Robin Good: How were you able to overcome the technology barriers intrinsic to a development country like Sri-Lanka?
Sanjana Hattotuwa: Issues of bandwidth, sustainable access to technology and communications infra-structure and computers powerful enough to run Groove 2.x were at first obstacles to its adoption.

Which is why, in the pilot phase, the project concentrated on inter-connecting people within and between offices in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, where these issues were not so much a problem as in the rural areas.

The adoption rate and the utilisation of Info-Share surprised many of us - because the technology allowed users to work around the uncertain network infrastructure, where internet and email outages were somewhat the norm, irrespective of which ISP you had chosen.

Geographically dispersed teams, with little or no access to the Internet, were hampered in their work by an inability to share with colleagues data from the field, or access vital documents and change them on the fly.

Teams were getting too large to use email and features built into programs like Microsoft Word (eg. Track Changes) that allowed for multi-person interaction on a regular basis.

Emails were not secure and websites too public - so problems related to the secure transmission of data and the ability to securely share information with colleagues, and yet keep it away from the prying eyes of the media, were issues that could not be addressed within the paradigm of limiting communications to the email / web paradigm.

Robin Good: How were you able to convince management, political people and funding partners that collaboration technologies could have played an important role in this process?

Sanjana Hattotuwa: It was by no means an easy task, but we were helped by an increasing realisation that something had to be done to enable better communication within and between agencies, organisations, donors, NGOs, AND people who were involved in the peace process.

The multi-tiered nature of a peace process and its inherent complexity, was giving rise to much overlap in activities without necessary and proper coordination. This in turn was resulting in a waste of valuable resources and a general lack of coherence in the peace building process.

Using the basic tools of Groove and some additional ones that we had developed on our own for the platform, called Peace Tools, we were able to convince local and international stakeholders that an information sharing framework with Groove at its heart would simultaneously address all their concerns about secure collaboration and yet allow for significant improvements in resource allocation and implementation of programmes on the ground.

The image here below is shows some root causes for conflict and issues the need to be addressed in a peace process. ICT initiatives like Info-Share operate inside this framework and bring people and stakeholders into collaborative shared spaces to exchange information and work together towards building peace in Sri Lanka and also address the positions of major stakeholders in the peace process - their interests and the basic human needs that underpin them.

Info-Share hopes to integrate and connect stakeholders in each village, city, region, or sector in the country, into multi-sector and holistic peace building processes that are flexible, continuously updated and instantly accessible by all parties.

Robin Good: How did you arrive at selecting Groove as your preferred collaborative solution?

Sanjana Hattotuwa: Put simply, the raison d'ĂȘtre of Groove at the heart of Info-Share is because it is a tool built for collaboration.

There is no other software application that can match what Groove has to offer to teams of organisations and people involved in a peace building process anywhere in the world.

In fact, the more difficult the topography of a region, the better suited Groove is to help in keeping teams in contact with each other.

Published technical specifications of Groove will also give an insight why Groove was selected - it's underlying asynchronous technology, in built security and extensive out-of-the-box tools meant that it lent itself to the complex work of peace building and conflict transformation.

Robin Good: Which other tools did you consider in the selection process?

Sanjana Hattotuwa:

We did not have the time or financial resource to evaluate, on a national scale, similar products or technologies - but after checking with an exhaustive literature review and small scale testing of other products, we found that none matched up to the unique needs of supporting actors in an on-going peace process.

Robin Good: People would normally think that Groove is a tool that requires both good processing power as well as good Internet connectivity. How did you overcome these two apparently impossible obstacles?

Sanjana Hattotuwa:

And people would be 100% right !!

Groove 2.x (things are far better in Groove 3.0 beta) is an absolute resource hog.

Info-Share upgraded the systems of all the key stakeholders in Sri Lanka (if they could not do it themselves) to run Groove without slowing down their machines.

Info-Share always recommends a hardware configuration that is able to run Groove 2.x comfortably to any new stakeholder who joins the network. In the next three years, we will also help setting up the physical infrastructure in terms of hardware and software necessary for multiple tiers, from grassroots to pan Sri Lankan NGOs, to use Groove to effectively streamline their communications, information sharing and collaboration.

One such example is the recent pan Sri Lankan network we created for elections monitoring, details of which are available at

Robin Good: What is the the feature that you liked the most about Groove and why?

Sanjana Hattotuwa: Of the many features I have come to love in Groove, perhaps the most valuable feature is the often forgotten notification of space changes - a tiny icon that is a life saver and tells you when someone has changed data in a particular space.

Incredibly more convenient than ploughing through hundreds if not thousands of emails, the notification immediately alerts you to important changes in any tools in a workspace, so that you have, at a single glance, an overview of what's been going on since you last connected up live to the space.

Coupled with the asynchronous nature of data communications in Groove, it also means that even long after you disconnect, you can continue to see and make your own changes to new or revised data.

Robin Good: Why do you think Groove has such an edge over other real-time and asynchronous collaboration tools?

Sanjana Hattotuwa: Other tools have been designed with a specific purpose in mind - to share internet links, files etc..

Groove incorporates all of these, along with rock-solid security, in a holistic package that aims to free the end user from the desktop whilst providing him / her with the tools necessary to fully participate in collaborative work irrespective of where they are or how they are connected to the Internet.

As you can imagine, this easily lends itself to the contours of peace building - where teams have to work on the full spectrum of tools available to them on their desktop, yet often in non-ideal conditions - where Internet connectivity cannot be taken for granted, where travel is problematic, were time is always of essence and the need for security paramount.

Groove adapts itself to the complexities of peace building and allows Info-Share the freedom to develop custom tools and solutions ranging from simple email aggregation to very powerful GIS mapping tools to help stakeholders in the peace process achieve their work with a minimum of fuss.

Robin Good: What do you think are on the other hand present-day Groove greatest limitations?

Sanjana Hattotuwa:

  • Lack of development in their out-of-the-box tools, which not only look dated, but even in the most recent beta, show very little signs of improvement over their previous incarnations (except for the forms tool).

  • This is a massive problem, since these tools are the very ones which stakeholders in Sri Lanka use extensively for their work.

  • There used to be no search feature in the workspaces - we have time and again been asked when this feature will be available and are presently running out of excuses to give (it is now available in the new version 3 beta).

  • The other thing that stakeholders most often complain about is the complete mystery surrounding very large uploads that result out of tiny additions to a workspace. This can be a killer for those who operate in low bandwidth situations.

    Robin Good: If you were to add one feature to Groove what would it be?

    Sanjana Hattotuwa: The ability to search for information within workspaces (within and between) - it is hard to believe that Groove has not implemented this feature already.

    Robin Good: What is the single most important achievement that you have been able to realize by using this technologies versus applying traditional approaches?

    Sanjana Hattotuwa: Bringing people together who would not have otherwise done so, either because it would be political suicide for them if knowledge of their participation were known to their constituency before the groundwork was fully laid, or because they simply are not in Sri Lanka but have a pivotal role to play in one or many tiers of the on-going peace building process.

    The workflow that is engendered by the use of Groove simply cannot be even approximated using emails or by secure websites.

    We have brought people and organisations together to save lives. We have provided them with a framework to use their imagination to help save lives.

    Our own small reward is seeing these idea mature in various spaces, which as a Sri Lankan, brings me hope that I can one day see a country that is devoid of the wretched wastefulness of war.

    Robin Good: Has this process cut out some stakeholders from the peace-making process because they didn't have enough technology or connectivity to use Groove?

    Sanjana Hattotuwa: Yes, initially.

    This was done deliberately, since we first needed to build a core information sharing platform and also build confidence in Groove, its use and the usefulness of Info-Share.

    Info-Share is designed to expand in three stages:

    The first stage comprised the base-level engaging of peace-stakeholder organizations in awareness-raising about the Groove concept. This "first tier" stage specifically involved:

    i. Raising awareness amongst key stakeholders about collaboration software & shared spaces and its potential, and how it can help them;

    ii. Analysing the needs, strategies and the modus operandi of organizations, both within the organizations and between partner organizations;

    iii. Once a stakeholder began using the collaboration software and joined stakeholder networks, provide advice on how best to "customise" and utilise the software to suit their particular needs.

    Once an organization has agreed to join the virtual network and collaboration spaces, we move into the "second tier" with the Tech Support component, which will comprise of:

    i. Initial installation of Groove software on the organization's computers;

    ii. Setting up a "hotline" for tech support (both telephone and Internet) for ongoing Groove troubleshooting;

    iii. Developing tools to provide custom solutions based on demand, i.e., providing additional components to the Groove software which are not currently available;

    The "third tier" component, which involves providing support and assistance to organizations on how to best make use of Groove and its capabilities, both intra-organizationally and inter-organizationally. Specifically:

    i. Based on the first tier analysis carried out earlier, assist in the creation of spaces, publication of documents within those spaces, sharing information, facilitating communication and creating effective knowledge networking ;

    ii. Facilitate the invitation of the organization into such "collaborative" Groove spaces (such as the Peace Partners space) as may be relevant;

    iii. Conducting workshops for collaborating organizations on the effective use of Groove and Peace Tools, particularly in making use of the collaborative spaces for networking and collaboration.

    iv. Provide technical, training, logistical, strategic, project management and content development support to organisations and stakeholders;

    v. Create multi-sectoral and on-line networks/shared working spaces to enable a holistic integrated peace building process;

    vi. Facilitate the creation of networks that will enable public participation and engagement in the peace process and provide platforms for collaboration and rapid distribution of information and resources to every community in the country;

    vii. Create secure and public platforms/spaces and websites for on-going dialogue and feedback on critical issues facing the peace process;

    Robin Good: What would you recommend to other communication specialists working in development and emergency areas and needing to start-up an effective exchange among different and disconnected parties?

    Sanjana Hattotuwa: Technology is NOT a panacea.

    Never think you can achieve magically with technology what you cannot and will not be able to achieve with trust, confidence and a commitment to upholding principles that ensure the sustainability of peace building and the trust of those who are involved in it.

    You lose that trust, and even Groove 10.2, which built in ESP so that we can communicate using our brains rather than keyboards, will not be able to help you in your work.

    Build trust first, inspire confidence and then use that solid foundation to help parties to come together in real world and virtual spaces to discuss issues.

    Never assume that bringing all parties into the same workspace will help - sometimes, you need to nurture them in the technology and more specifically, the culture of information sharing, in separate workspaces and only then bring them together.

    Info-Share and Groove help a process NOT a product.

    Do not try to claim the good work that happens on account of your facilitation as that of your own creation. This divests stakeholders and partners in a sense of ownership - we lay no claim to the good work that's coming out of Info-Share - this is entirely the result of the dedication, sacrifice and commitment of the stakeholders who are using it.

    Be realistic with your goals.

    Info-Share could well be a failure - but in a larger process of not prostituting the incredible advances of technology (and its use in war and killing) but using it to help save lives, Info-Share could well be a model for other countries to use ICT for related peace building and conflict transformation interventions.

    Robin Good: In your successful adventure with Groove and live collaboration technologies what have you discovered about these new technologies that has become apparent to you only after using them?

    Sanjana Hattotuwa: That even stakeholders who have not been used to sharing information, suddenly, when confronted with the possibilities of using Info-Share, open up and begin to use their imagination and the power of Groove to visualize creative solutions to problems facing the peace building process.

    It is literally an amazing process to witness.

    Robin Good: How do you think we can all contribute, as users and researchers to further improve the potential and range of applications of these new fascinating technologies?

    Sanjana Hattotuwa: Computers and internet connections are insufficient if the technology is not used effectively because it is not affordable, if people are discouraged from using it or if local economies and patterns of access cannot sustain long term application.

    This is precisely why ICT will play, for the foreseeable future, a role limited to complementing interventions by other stakeholders working on the ground to resolve conflict.

    However, the reverse also holds true.

    Recognition of the immense potential of ICT and the ability to develop inclusive, participatory long-term plans to broaden the adoption base of these new collaboration technologies can help those who have traditionally been excluded from development processes to learn, appreciate and take part in the exercise of nation building.

    Some considerations:

    (Robin Good)

  • Groove could have provided the means, not only to a restricted number of stakeholders to participate and contribute to this important peace making process if it had had the humbleness of recognizing its own limits while providing effective bridges to other, grass roots, low-cost, low-footprint technologies (RSS feeds, wikis, blogs, P2P, dial-up capable VoIP tools, etc.) that would have played the role of extending the reach while being altogether more inclusive.

  • Groove, at least as we refer to the existing version 2.5 which was available at the time Info-Share launched during last fall, is one of the collaboration tools requiring the most processing power, higher demands for memory and for connectivity, bandwidth and storage space than any other competing tool in this space. Why was then Groove selected as the ideal tool for this project? Did the target audience and participating stakeholders warrant a possible ideal environment for Groove installation? Unlikely. Was Groove particularly easier to use than other tools available then? Certainly not.

  • One of the areas where I, as reader and professional analyst I was curiouser to find out more was how Groove had been selected over other tools. Unfortunately we are not given to know much about this, even when the question is asked in the most precise and open way possible. Gets you thinking? Me too.

  • Unless you have fallen in love with a technology for technology reasons, and can't see glitz from value, it is hard for me to understand why this group chose to go the Groove way. If it was a way to prove Groove successful on new and untried grounds, I think this was indeed a success story to follow. But if a group of communication/collaboration analysts, forgetting for a moment, Sanjana, Info-Share and Groove Inc. own interests, were to look at facilitating a communication and collaboration process between multiple and varied groups in a geographical context of civil unrest such as Sri Lanka, with very little resources available in terms of technology and connectivity, it would be very hard, if not nearly impossible that this group would come up or even consider suggesting Groove as a candidate tool to effectively support this process.

    (You may not see it as I do, but I am pretty convinced of this having submitted many proposals to organizations like FAO, UNEP and the World Food Programme on how to manage similar projects in development and emergency areas.)

  • Bottom line: marketing and communications play a strategic role in the future of anyone company. So much more so when the company devotes itself to augment our abilities to do so. The more this happens, the more such companies need to attune and adapt their language and communication style to reflect the augmented communication processes at work throughout the marketplace. As they provide new and better technologies to communicate and collaborate together, so do people increase their ability, interest and will to communicate without barriers or facades. I simple terms we are tried of the indirect, "corporate", cosmetic, and uselessly formal communication approach
    used by these very companies to promote themselves.

    The dichotomy is strongly felt and it strides with the mentality and attitude that these new technologies want to realize.

    I think it is about time, Groove and many other companies in this space realize this need and start to act and walk as the tools they create allow us to do.

    Sanjana Hattotuwa is a native Sri Lankan who is also one of the young and key stakeholders at Info-Share, an organization devoted to help the peace-making process be realized through the effective use of new media technologies.

    Mr. Hattotuwa is also the Content Development and Strategic Management / User Consultant for Info-Share. Info-Share was created with the belief that ICT and innovative media can help bridge communications gaps between the main stakeholders in the peace process.

    Readers' Comments    
    2005-03-14 11:42:22


    Hi everyone. We work for a Colombo-based organization on peace and humanitarian issues in Sri Lanka. We came across this interview recently and also more articles and papers on the internet about the supposedly groundbreaking work this organization is doing. Since seeing this, we've talked to so many organizations like ours, and the majority have not even heard of INFOSHARE. The few that had were not using the product or the service because it was of no use to their work. We have no choice but to conclude that this organization is getting recognition and resources for work that it is not doing. Who are they working with? Who are they bringing together? We hope we are wrong, but it sounds like a lot of rubbish in nice language, and we will do our best to uncover the truth.

    2004-04-12 23:05:23

    Bill Wood

    I agree, the decentralized, user-driven nature of Groove could be key in a situation like this. Groove removes centralized IT (people and technology) from the equation and lets people get on with their work securely.

    2004-04-12 07:28:17


    Given the nature of peace negotiations, I suspect that the cool, depersonalized nature of virtual space of any sort lends itself better to the rational articulation of stances, positions, and compromises, when contrasted with (usually heated, potentially explosive) face-to-face meetings over contentious topics.

    Yet there is an interesting psychsocial consequence of Groove's peer-to-peer architecture that perhaps makes it especially suited for the trust-building process at work in Sri Lanka, and indeed, perhaps, in any process where the collaboration will only succeed in tandem with an element of negotiation.

    Client/server architectures are hampered by the fact that the server must always live at a particular location--bought, configured, maintained and controlled by a single party.

    Servers are like fortresses--centers of territorial power.

    Asymmetric ownership of the data--and the solution to a shared problem--by any one party creates a competitive, turf-war dynamic that runs counter to the goals of cooperation and consensus.

    P2P architectures are serverless, centerless, neutral ground.

    Everyone has a copy of everything, bound to a shared context, yet while the data is everywhere, it is nowhere in particular.

    To quote Gertrude Stein on California, "there is no there there." There is no turf to fight over.

    In Sri Lanka, perhaps, removing turf (even the virtual sort) from the equation might help a bit, since both parties naturally gravitate toward conflict over control of shared resources.

    This assumes, of course, a certain level of willingness on both sides to take the hard, human steps toward mutual trust.

    posted by Robin Good on Saturday, April 10 2004, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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