IBM making web-based collaboration platform

Faster page-builds and more features promised

IBM is working on a platform for collaborative mashups which needs little more than a browser and a server to create a shared environment that includes audio and videoconferencing. Called Project Blue Spruce, the software supports an environment for pulling together data, tools and widgets from around the web to assemble the elements needed for business meetings. For instance, IBM's Emerging Technology Group has created an application for Reuters' traders to meet online, hear managers' directives for the day and look over news and stock activity around the world, says David Boloker, IBM CTO of emerging internet technologies. Blue Spruce differs from other web collaboration platforms and services such as WebEx in that the others download centrally assembled pages. With Blue Spruce, each machine involved in a collaboration downloads the elements required to make up the page from the nearest internet source. This means users experience faster page builds than they would if the content was assembled centrally and downloaded from a single source, especially if participants are widely dispersed around the world, Boloker says. So in the Reuters case, RSS feeds about individual companies, news stories and stock data might be compiled by each machine based on an application template describing what makes up the page. Stock prices are updated every five seconds from Yahoo. In another example demonstrated at the IBM/Lotus Development Centre, a real-estate collaboration application drew together Google maps, a longitude-latitude widget, real-estate listings and foreclosure data. With it, a realtor and customers can confer over properties, and if one of the participants clicked on a particular property flagged on a map, the screens of all participants would refresh to show the listing for that property and perhaps a satellite view of it. Each change to the page would be pulled from separate sources on the web and assembled by each machine in the conference, Boloker says. An IBM widget sends notification of the changing event that takes place when one participant clicks on a property and the rest of the machines duplicate the change on their own, he says. The platform relies on an XMPP server that a business would own or access via a service, and each participant would log in to a session via user name and password. Both the Reuters and real-estate demonstrations included audio and video running peer-to-peer between two MacBook PRO laptops, with the platform supporting both VGA and HD video. The Blue Spruce demonstration works with the Safari browser running a 5MB client, and researchers are working to move it to Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers as well, according to Boloker. He demonstrated a futher medical application that included blackboarding, in which conferring doctors could circle parts of a CT scan to point out features they wanted to draw to one another's attention. The IBM research team plans to deploy other applications to six more customers next year, with the intent of turning Blue Spruce into a commercial product, Boloker says. Meetings created via the platform are called huddles, and IBM is developing a huddle manager to let users create impromptu huddles in which participants can confer over a single application. The software also includes templates that let users drag and drop elements they want to include in collaboration pages. Other collaboration platforms such as IBM-Lotus SameTime can also be part of a huddle, Boloker says, to enable instant messaging or add presence data, for example. Boloker and his team started working on Blue Spruce about five months ago. They hope to expose the platform to a wider group of customers during the second half of next year.

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