Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Contextual Online Collaboration Tools

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Contextual collaboration tools are already available for us to use today, and more tools that design themselves around becoming extensions of core applications are slowly emerging.

While the dominating market trend in the collaboration and conferencing industry is toward building tools that are independent applications, which provide integrated facilities to present and share documents with others, the new emerging contextual collaboration tools gradually fade into minimalistic user interfaces, show up as tiny system tray applications and drive strongly toward complementing any core application key features by seamlessly extending their input/output procedure into typical collaborative tasks (share, show, send, co-edit, annotate, etc.).


Some great examples of existing contextual online collaboration tools are already here:

Glance. Glance is an atypical example for a contextual collaboration technology, as Glance was born to provide a peek into my computer screen to anyone I cared to invite to see it. But due to its excellent minimalist design and non-existent UI (user interface) Glance has indeed become a natural extension of anyone's core application and the "de facto" easiest way to extend my desktop to anyone I wish to collaborate with.

Similar to Glance but with the added capability of remote control Netviewer plays on the same turf, with a tiny app that effectively provides a true alternative (from all standpoints: UI, features, compatibility and pricing model) to Glance present unchallenged superiority.

Netviewer is not cross-platform compatible (which Glance is) and it requires a small client download also on the participant side (not so with Glance). Pricing model is also very different as Glance is a monthly low-cost fee while Netviewer is a one-time license starting at over two thousand dollars and then priced according to number of concurrent users.

Groove can definitely be considered to be in some important ways a capable contextual collaboration tool. Though passionate critics of Groove will contest its true breed as a contextual tool, if not else for the sheer size of this application and its insistence of duplicating production tools within its shared workspace environment, if one is blessed with having the latest computing technology, plenty of resources, and can run Groove all day in the background, then you can truly appreciate its native, immense forgotten and now misguided potential.

Its ability to send Outlook emails directly into shared spaces as well as its strength to easily integrate content many applications into custom collaborative spaces make it a very strong player among contextual collaboration tools.

Groove sports also an extremely capable and well-designed presence awareness engine and a real-time alert/messaging facility, capable of keeping me in exceptionally close touch with the activities and response times of my team-mates.

It's fair to say thatGroove contextual abilities border on the redundant, as in the process of being best at too many things it has ended up in replicating the work you would normally carry out elsewhere. At least in this respect Groove has tried too much to be everything to everyone forgetting that its key strength is really in becoming the bridge between core tools and a broad variety of collaboration activities.

Tenix is a secure collaboration tool that extends the capabilities of Outlook, Word and Internet Explorer by making it possible to initiate from any of those application a live collaboration session supported by strong and secure sharing facilities. Shared spaces can be created and files can be easily uploaded and made available to other team-mates.

With Tenix while I am surfing I can instantly send any web page URL to any of my peers that is standing online. With the same ease I can store any URL in anyone of my online shared spaces.

If I am working inside Outlook I can easily send any email, including its attachments into any of my shared folders and store it there for future use or collaborative activities.

If I am inside Microsoft Word I can instantly send a document to a shared space
and make it available for anyone of my peers to work on it. Tenix keeps good track of revisions and different versions of a the same document being used.

Throughout my working day I can keep in close and secure touch with my working teammates while exchanging live, sharing documents and managing collaborative workspaces that remain available to all participants at all times.

Lotus Sametime and Domino/Notes, Documentum eRoom, and many other collaboration technologies could be included here depending on the way you look at contextual collaboration and which criteria you decide to apply.

Though it may not be listing technologies in the same way I do, a great resource to find out more about online collaborative workspaces is Dr Woolley's Thinkofit at

The above represent only "hints" at where and how the first generation of contextual collaboration tools appear to the end user today.

You should expect visionary small companies along with some of the very largest players in this industry to grab this understanding and make significant strides ahead of all other mainstream collaboration tools.

Disappearing behind a Microsoft Word Edit menu or toolbar, or better yet becoming an invisible utility, available at all times, and directly compatible with all major applications output and input procedures, would appear to be one killer path for those who want to ride the online collaboration market in the near and medium-term future.

Related articles:

Contextual Collaboration Is The Future Of Real-Time Conferencing Technologies

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    
2006-01-24 04:22:35


What became of Tenix? I tried clicking the links provided and the domain is no longer registered to them. Document versioning tools are an easy win among customers researching online collaboration tools. If you know what happened to this product I would be interested in finding out.

2003-10-27 13:55:43

David Fowler

Robin, Great article on contextual collaboration.

We are seeing an increasing interest in bringing the value of collaboration to the tools/applications/process that I use on a daily basis rather than making me go somewhere to collaborate.

We also see context relative to a workspace which may not be tied to one application.

When I want to work on a particular problem or project I enter the workspace and I am surrounded by the applications, people and data I need.

Similar to working on a document by bringing up the document in the application (Word) or launching Word from the Explorer.

As usual...well done.


posted by Robin Good on Sunday, October 26 2003, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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