MBONE: Multicasting Tomorrow's Internet

Collaboration Tools

Today, the Internet can provide more than the equivalent of the telephone and videophone. Using so-called collaboration tools, two or more people separated by any distance (for example, a department, a task force, or just two authors working on a book) can share ideas, outlines, art, text, and other information in real time.

Collaboration tools often work with the metaphor of a shared whiteboard, an area on each user's computer screen that can be written to, erased, drawn upon, or scribbled upon. Imagine a meeting in a boardroom with a large chalkboard or one of those nifty white- boards that you write on with colored pens. Collaboration tools put the whiteboard on each participant's screen, enabling all of the participants to create outlines, diagram ideas and even play Pictionary without schlepping to the same physical location.

Some collaboration tools provide public and private chat windows and shared text editing fields, and some even enable participants to vote on issues. Some collaboration tools provide a WYSIWIS (what-you-see-is-what-I-see) feature, which allows a moderator to run other applications on his computer and have the moderator's screen be mirrored on each of the participants' computers.

NCSA (the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the same folks who brought you Mosaic) has created a program called Collage for the analysis and sharing of scientific data. Collage's functions include image display and analysis, color table editing, and spreadsheet display of floating-point numbers.

For more information on Collage, see http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/Software/Brochure/Overview/MacCollage.overview.html.

Another collaboration tool, Co-Motion Lite, focuses on group idea generation, annotation, evaluation, and issue resolution. Co-Motion Lite is commercial software. For more information, contact Bittco at bittco@ccinet.ab.ca or by phone at 403-922-5514 or fax at 403-922-2859.

Because most collaboration tools transmit text and line art rather than bandwidth-intensive data, you can use these tools reliably with Internet connections of 9600 bps or even slower. Coupled with a traditional conference call for voice communication, collaboration tools can be a useful way to share information and ideas, even if you can't share the same office.

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