A report from the Groove/weblog frontier

The collaboration in the public Groove space started by Jeroen Bekkers continues to serve (I think) a useful cross-cultural purpose. As I mentioned before, at issue is not merely how to connect the two environments -- weblogs and Groove -- but more fundamentally why? What problems will integration solve, and how?

I'm an early Groove user who has not found many close Groove collaborators over the past few years, and also an avid blogger. Most of the others in the space are, I would say, much more avid Groove users (and developers) who are now venturing into blogspace. These observations are, necessarily, biased according to my own perspective.

A couple of points about etiquette and convention. The space has both persistent chat and a threaded discussion. One day I showed up to find that the chat content had been moved to a discussion item. It made sense to do that, but I wondered whether the protocol should be that the archiver of the chat should leave a link, in the chat, to the discussion item that is the archive. The next time the chat was archived (today), that's what happened. My sense is that these kinds of conventions are still evolving in Groovespace.

The relationship between the persistent chat and the discussion tool is an interesting one. Here was my observation:

This is a little like parties at my house. We always try to get people to move into the living room (aka, the Discussion tool). But they keep on congregating in the kitchen (Chat tool). When we moved to a new house that is bigger, but with a smaller kitchen, I thought it would solve the problem. But nope. Everybody still piles into the kitchen :-)

One of the things I've been asking myself is, how is this space different from what could be accomplished in a QuickTopic discussion? Somebody dropping in from the outside with no Groove experience might think, "Not much, this is just a heavyweight version of that idea." Although the persistent chat adds a new wrinkle, that assessment would not have been far wrong. But then, Hugh Pyle added something that made the experience truly Groovey: an RSS reader. Suddenly the experience became qualitatively different. This news aggregator was a group resource. I immediately saw it as a way to work more effectively with (for example) my new colleagues at InfoWorld. I know of no other way to focus the attention of a group on a stream of news which is guaranteed to be identically and persistently available to everyone, and at the same time to be able to support collaboration around that stream -- i.e., discussions about which items to pursue.

Various protocol issues arose regarding the newsreader -- which, to be clear, is an incomplete project begun and then shelved by Agora, where Hugh worked before joining Groove. I wondered whether it had the Navigate Together capability common in Groove. It didn't. My understanding (which Hugh will of course correct if it's wrong) is that the GDK framework might provide such capability more or less "for free" but that this particular tool does not because it relies on HTML and Flash controls.

A second thing I noticed is that Groove's Copy Entry as Link feature, which would enable a discussion item or chat fragment to refer (through a link) to an RSS item in a news feed, wasn't working.

Finally, Michael Herman noted that the newsreader was triggering a space-wide unread notification (versus a tool-specific unread notification) with every new item. Effectively, this made the whole space appear unread all the time.

For these reasons, the tool was withdrawn, and another space intended for experimental exploration of tools was formed.

From Hugh's perspective, meanwhile, there were issues arising from the unusually public nature of this shared space. He wrote:

Every time a stranger appears in a group, the dynamics change. You go from feeling like a small bunch of people sitting around a table over coffee, to "who's that Sean guy", to "He's OK, writing some useful things." But that process takes a while, and affects also my feelings about past writings. Am I writing this stuff with a Groove Networks Inc. hat on? No, of course not; it's more informal than that. Could a stranger quote out of context, and make me hold to my words? Of course; I like the Rheingold-type "you own your words"; but the public-private boundary shouldn't be too fluid!"

Then there's also a mix of people who have met face-to-face and not. For me, I've met: Jeroen, Tim, Michael, Sanjay, Clive, Mark... and I've read your writings [that is, mine, Jon Udell's] often, so I know a little of who you are. But I don't know sydbarrett74 (say). Everyone is "present" in a concrete way, unlike a newsgroup or many other discussions.

This was subtler way in which a visitor from outside would find things different from a conventional public web discussion. Groovespace is far more intimate and immediate. You're alerted when somebody shows up, when somebody moves from one tool to another, even when somebody is typing a message. It's more intimacy than we have or expect in public web discussions.

Groove is optimized for a closely-collaborative working group, not a broad-based public discussion. This particular shared space, with its wide-open invitation, is therefore slightly pathological. Still, I think Jeroen did the right thing by opening it up so people can have the chance to see and experience a working Groove space -- just as UserLand's developers were, for a while, conducting their business using open instant-outlining spaces. It's vital to open windows into these worlds. Wrote Sean Heffernan:

Being able to publish selected discussion postings to a blog, as you manually did Jon in replicating your posting in your Radio, in a sense broadcasts what is taking place "in the kitchen to those still hanging in the living room", you are in essence attempting to lower the activation threshold ... or at least making others curious as to what's up in the kitchen, perhaps even enough to make them wander in.

There has been much useful discussion about how to manage the public/private boundary. Wrote Andy Swarbrick:

Whether space content is or is not made public should not be a matter of debate. The space owner (a non-existent entity in Groove) should set out clear terms and conditions of membership. If one of those is stated clearly that one or more tabs is to be blogged onto a website -- then who can complain!

This is where the debate around public/private issues should exist: what public information exists about a space before one joins the space. Groove 2.x began to think about the isse with the Welcome tool. But unfortunately it missed the boat. It misunderstood the question, imo, and went for an easy but useless answer. I mean, in a busy space WHO will actually use a Welcome tool! It is just a waste of space!

The only current value-added of the Welcome tool is the description. But does Groove push the boat out and ask the question should / can the welcome information be made available to non-members? No it does not. It ducks out of the question, possibly afraid of the answer.

The Welcome tool is a recapitulation of the policy document that was traditionally the first record in a Lotus Notes database, which described the nature and purpose of the database. Apparently, it's not yet a stable Groove convention.

How people find out about spaces, and manage the "horizon of observability," is a really important question. John Burkhardt blogged:

I just joined one of Andy Swarbs spaces of spaces. It's an interesting idea. Imagine that a blog is a human router for web content. This is a human router for Groove spaces. If you haven't been there, its basically a files tool with a bunch of .grv files in it. And he has an outliner in there too with links to each space, and some categorization.

Of course, I always want more. I imagined his space as kind of a hub. But in that hub I want to see where all the other links will take me. I'd like to see, for example, the member list, or the list of tools, or the most recent post. But I have to dive in. This gets back to your other point of the weakness of Groove being that you have to have everything on your machine. So it makes the process of joining a space a heavy weight process. It could be a completely different experience if coming and going was easier.

With Edge Services, it would be possible (and I think this might be what Dave would call a "Mind Bomb") to write a tool that could extract information from other spaces. So I could write a space aggregator tool, that could pull information about other members' spaces and display them in a hub space like Andy's. We could use this to in essence, publish what else we are doing in groovespace.

(BTW, following andyswarbs' Groove contact info to this website, I think it's actually Andy Swarbrick, is that right, Andy?)

I agree with John. This is another example of the "Heads, decks, and leads" principle I keep invoking.

Hugh, meanwhile, has blogged a tantalizing glimpse of a smoother on-ramp into Groove using a link of the form:


Michael Herman's been thinking along the same lines. This is a great idea, especially if complemented by an information architecture that makes following such a link less of a leap of faith. Mechanisms to summarize activity in spaces, enabling would-be joiners to evaluate before taking the plunge, will be really helpful.

There's more, but that's enough for a Sunday afternoon that's just turned sunny. I'm enjoying this exercise in cross-fertilization immensely, though! Thanks to everyone for playing along.

Update: Tim Knip has exported the discussion part of the space (which also archives all the chat to date) to OPML, viewable here. Thanks, Tim!

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2002/06/09.html#a290