P2P has extended Groupware to now include the Internet at large. This is having a radical impact on collaboration. Individuals and businesses no longer are bound by specific tools within a community or geographic region. Common interests and objectives are the driving force. The tools to support the formation and integration of decentralized communication and ad hoc group formation already exist. For example, the popularity of AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ have demonstrated that real-time communication is a viable and often preferred way to communicate. Products such as Napster and FreeNet have proven that decentralized file sharing is possible.
Collaboration is the next step. Collaboration increases productivity, and enables teams in different geographic areas to work together. As with file sharing, it can decrease network traffic by reducing email, and decreases server storage requirements by using edge devices to store projects and information locally.
Understanding P2P collaboration requires knowledge of shared spaces, content management, knowledge management, and workflow.
Shared spaces form the backbone to P2P collaborative applications:
Rendezvous pointsShared spaces enable to peers to identify a common network accessible meeting place.
Identity and presence servicesShared spaces become the common point for searching, retrieving, and updating identity and online status.
Group membershipShared spaces form the basis for defining a group or community of peers connected by a common interest or goal. Group membership in a shared space is controlled by the group, rather than by a central administrator.
Inherent in P2P collaboration is content management. Content management systems (CMS) collect, manage, and publish the informational assets of an individual or organization. This involves securing, accessing, versioning, and storing content throughout its lifecycle. Structured data, such as XML-defined metadata, can be used to complement, organize, and describe the informational assets in a CMS. Content management systems are used extensively in Web publishing and content syndication environments.
Most CMS vendors have developed client-server models of content management. A centralized server controls access to the content system. These systems tend to use traditional technologies such as relational databases to store and index the information. P2P content management systems use shared spaces, which tend to be more object-oriented. Collaboration is achieved by enabling members of a shared space to exchange, version, and store documents in shared content repositories.
More sophisticated collaborative applications provide some level of workflow. Workflow management is the automated coordination and control of work processes. A work process is a collection of activities, typically stretching across and beyond organizational boundaries. Activities might include direct interactions with a user or workflow participant, or interactions via computer.
Workflow will become more popular as collaborative applications control more complex tasks. This will especially be significant when automated tasks are combined with manual processes. A driver for this type of environment is e-commerce, because you must be able to integrate Web-enabled business transactions into your back end systems to be successful. P2P architectures fit nicely into the distributed and decentralized environment of next generation-workflow management systems.
Finally, knowledge management (KM) is required to build more intelligent collaborative applications. KM focuses on the informational assets that provide the most value to the organization. KM includes the processes that facilitate the capturing, sharing, and updating of knowledge to enhance the performance and value of the organization Generating value from such assets involves sharing them among employees, departments and even with other companies in an effort to devise best practices. It goes beyond content management, which is more technical in nature, to the basic social aspects of collaboration.
Collaboration software is combining single-function P2P applications, like instant messaging and file sharing, into coherent platforms for implementing distributed applications.
Groove Networks (http://www.groove.net) is the brainchild of Ray Ozzie, inventor of Lotus Notes. Groove is Ray's rethinking of the Lotus Notes architecture. Notes slightly gained popularity before the Web became very popular in the 1990s. Groove attempts to overcome Notes' Internet limitations by delivering a P2P platform to developing and deploying secure enterprise applications.
At first, Groove Networks positioned Groove as a P2P collaborative platform. Recent moves to align itself with Microsoft have shown some promising uses of P2P technology in Windows environments. Although nothing has been publicly discussed at the time of this book's writing, Groove is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Already Groove has found a home in enterprises, government, small businesses, and individuals (see Figure 3.8). It offers instant collaboration, shared spaces, Web connectivity, and a host of add-on applications.
Figure 3.8 Groove promotes secure peer-to-peer collaboration using public and private networks.
Developers can integrate Groove into their existing systems. Groove and other competing products not only provide the capability to access data on traditional corporate networks, but also in nontraditional devices such as PDAs and a range of handheld devices.
Other Collaborative Solutions
Collaboration has become very popular, and the following represents only a partial list of notable offerings:
Ikimbo, Inc. (http://www.ikimbo.com) provides instant messaging, instant conferencing, presence detection, identity, message inbox, file transfer, and wireless devices, through their Omniprise product. It is a Java-based solution.
Consilient, Inc. (http://www.consilient.com) provides a framework for the development and management of iterative business processes that flow within and between enterprises.