Grooves Ozzie Rides the Real-Time Wave

By Steve Gillmor  |  Posted 2004-03-16

Grooves Ozzie Rides the Real-Time Wave

Three years after Ray Ozzie resurfaced with Groove Networks Inc., hes back with a sweeping redesign of the Groove product and architecture. In a conversation with eWEEKs Steve Gillmor, Ozzie talks about Grooves role in the changing nature of work and information routing.

What is your favorite feature of Groove 3?

The notification features have just 10X transformed how I use the product. In Version 2, we added our first attempt at trying to notify people at a finer grain [about] what was going on within shared spaces. If you found a tool within a space, that was very important to you and [if you] really wanted to be notified when something happened, you could optionally set a mode on that tool to send a notification when a change is made.

We found that started to cause some swarming around those tools. When somebody made a change within a tool within a space, youd suddenly find a bunch of other people coming to that space immediately. In Version 3 we added features that suddenly make swarming pervasive. Its just so cool. Theres a new automatic mode that all tools in all spaces are in by default. It watches—do you pick up this tool a lot, do you really care about what is going on in this dialogue—and notifies you more proactively for the things you care about and doesnt notify you for the things you dont seem to care about.

Then we added taskbar and audio alerts that let you know when data has changed in a space [and] audio that lets you know when people enter a space to look at stuff that you might care about. The Launchpad lets you see visually who is in a space, the number of people in a space. And group file-sharing: When somebody opens the Windows Explorer into a folder, other people can see that youre in there. You have a much greater sense for these spaces in terms of their activity. Its changed the way we use the product, and its truly shifted so much activity of what people do into Groove because it feels more like a place [where] other people are right now—live. You get things done more quickly because people swarm.

How would you describe the relationship between GFS (Groove File Sharing) and the core, standard Workspace?

It lets you share things in the context of where you already are comfortable working. We put certain mail integration features in Version 2 because we noticed that people like to start sharing based on the things that theyre talking about in e-mail. But the biggest piece of feedback that we kept getting was, "Between Microsoft Office and my file system, thats where I do a lot of work. In certain cases Id want to move stuff into this private space amongst people, but in many cases I want to keep working in the file system and just wrap a little conversation and unread activity around what Im already doing in the file system."

How are you bridging the security context relationships between multiple shared spaces, or in this case, the file system and shared spaces?

The Groove paradigm remains unchanged. A shared space is the unit of security. That is, its the compartment within which people get access to information and have the tools to work on information. Even in Groove going all the way back to Version 1, people could pull stuff out of that shared space and drop it into other shared spaces. Thats the nature of being at the edge and working with people. People can pick things up and put them out in e-mail.

With Web services, people can more easily programmatically pick stuff up out of one shared space and put it into another. At a high level, people can now build processes that involve multiple shared spaces, and furthermore, things that go on outside of Groove. The big theme in Groove Version 3 is integration and how you can very rapidly build applications both in forms or externally using Web services and hook them onto your existing processes, whether those processes exist in [IBMs Lotus] Notes, [Microsoft Corp.s] SharePoint, SAP [AG], Siebel [Systems Inc.] or whatever it happens to be.

Next page: Group aggregation

Group aggregation

Weve often talked about the Groove opportunity to integrate RSS aggregation and routing features. Where does that stand with Version 3?

We learned a lot with the RSS aggregator work that were working on in-house. Its very easy for us to bring sets of feeds together from multiple interested people to look at. The only part that I dont think weve nailed yet is what happens when the useful information can only be seen when youre not looking at the summary—when you click the links, do you then have to go out to the site? People havent packaged those sites in a way that they can be taken offline.

When I look at your site feed, the URLs in the summary point at HTML pages; they dont point at MHTs (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension HTML [MHTML] format), self-contained blobs that I can pull down. I would have to do a deep crawl of your site in order to pull down all the content into that shared space. Unfortunately, the Web standards people have not done a good job yet at, [is that when] given a URL, how to write a method to pull down the MHTs.

The model Im looking for here is the ability to capture an RSS feed that contains the full text or an XHTML rendering of it. And it would also solve some other significant issues related to RSS aggregation and authoring—namely, multiple machines, where Groove file-sharing enters the picture.

What weve done in Groove—not in the packaged product, but weve definitely done a few versions of it [that] our customers have used—is Groove aggregation. That same Groove aggregation technology works across your machines. If you read something on one machine, it gets marked read on the others. And it can aggregate multiple feeds, and so on. There are so many aggregators out there. I dont know whose is going to ultimately gain the most market share. But we have done a bunch of experimentation on that, and I look forward to, at some point, either we or one of our partners releasing a good group aggregator. Thats a pretty obvious, useful application.

Version 3s capability of sharing at the file-system level should allow groups to get together in a way theyre comfortable with in terms of the tools that they already use, but it also empowers the users to essentially replace the server with an administrable architecture. Youve always had an interesting relationship with IT. Even though its eliminating the more obvious server functionality, Groove Version 3 is at the same time providing a cross-domain collaborative group architecture that can be administered.

When we started Groove Networks in 1997, our real motivator was that the nature of business was changing from operating within its own shell, within its own firewalls, to operating in a very network fashion—that increasingly businesses were going to be working with different partners, and cross-firewall use was going to be a big deal. What weve learned in the past few years is that the basic nature of work itself is changing for individuals, and that impacts organizations. What we were really trying to instantiate in Groove Version 3 is the virtual office: the thing that you need on your computer to take all the stuff with you that you need that you would have in a physical office.

The files that you need are with you in a highly mobile fashion. If you meet with people, you can work with them like you would work with people in your office, except in a highly mobile and very secure fashion. If you wanted to do things that were very specific to your function—if youre a customer support rep, for example—you could very rapidly put together an application that matched how you work in your own work processes. This concept of a virtual office thats serving highly mobile, laptop-armed, WiFi-armed people is the sweet spot of Version 3.

The IT message: One of the things that makes Groove very attractive to small businesses and individuals is indeed this zero-IT aspect, that you can start to get some of this power of these collaboration tools that were available to major corporations, except that they can now do it without IT involvement. That was something that we really werent focusing on. It really came out a lot as weve been selling the product off of our Web site to small businesses. It turns out, though, that this low IT burden value is also being embraced by major enterprises. Theyve had layoffs. They have very little in the way of resources. And now they can extend a lot of those capabilities out to the lines of business and individuals without adding a big burden to what they have to support.

Does the tool allow IT to monitor the distribution of resources and deployment to users?

The Groove Management Server lets you centrally do a one-click deployment to all the people in the organization or a subset thereof. It federates with that enterprises directory through all the usual methods and lets you select what people get Groove. It either lets Groove use its own PKI [public-key infrastructure], or it uses the enterprises PKI if the enterprise happens to have a PKI deployed. This is a huge deal in government, where they have 2 million common-access cards deployed—you dont need a separate smart card or equivalent for Groove.

It has these really sophisticated bonding features that enable an IT organization that cares about auditing and compliance to crank up those features, and the client will record the things that its doing for the enterprise. The enterprise can, if they so desire, understand what users are using Groove for—how many spaces and how often. Enterprises dont actually use that to monitor peoples activities. What they use it for is to find out who needs to be trained. When you see somebody not using it who should be, its an indicator that sometimes you have to go reach out to somebody.

Software on PCs is not used unless its really user-friendly, and software thats deployed by enterprises isnt used unless its able to be managed. I think weve found the right balance between those two. Its unbelievably easy to use. Performance is so tremendously enhanced in Version 3, in some cases 2X, 4X, even 10X. The UI has been redesigned to be just really approachable—weve done a lot of user testing—and yet all these IT administration features dont get in the way of using the product.

Next page: The über operating system


über operating system">

With Longhorn increasing its time to market by years instead of months, Groove Version 3 is very timely. By allowing scoped, secure sharing of data off of the file system, not just between collaborators but also between an individuals multiple machines, youre establishing a kind of über operating system.

People buy Groove because theyve got a business problem theyre trying to solve that involves people that need to work together. I dont know how Longhorn is going to be sold or marketed, but with Groove we ask, "Do you know what youre trying to do that involves other people?" Heres the business value of Groove—install it, and you can use it to very quickly help put together a solution to solve your problem. I think of Groove more in the business-value dimension than in the operating system dimension.

The layer that you put on top of the operating system is where the customers really face the technology. Youre empowering teams to collaborate not only across enterprise boundaries but between devices of the individuals in those virtual groups. Thats really the model of what a next-generation operating system needs to accomplish.

Let there be no doubt that Groove is extremely rich client-side middleware. Furthermore, we believe that the core tenets, the core success criteria of any system thats supposed to bring people together to do something, have to operate on the infrastructure that they own. My IT organization cannot dictate what directory or standards another organization deploys. If I, as an individual within a line of business, have to work with five other companies, I cannot get a uniform infrastructure between those people. I cant control what desktop operating system they are using—they might use Windows 98, XP or Longhorn. I cant dictate what directory or what version of Microsoft Office theyre using.

Anything that is going to be effective in terms of collaboration must be middleware. One of Grooves core characteristics is that its adaptive to the environment that it is installed into, and if you talk to Groove users, [theyll tell you that] thats what makes it very valuable. All they need to know is the person that they need to work with. Thats it. Everything else just kind of works, and "just works"—no matter what your collaborators happen to be using—is fundamental to its success.

I understand the collaboration aspect, but the biggest problem we have these days as users is orchestrating our technology environment.

Groove will help that tremendously.

How is it going to bridge the gap between the Tablet Im recording this conversation on and the phone Im talking to you on? How are we going to be able to move Groove data to the phone and back?

All Im prepared to talk about right now is how Groove can move information between PC-class devices. Weve got a lot of really interesting ideas and concepts and prototypes that are essentially extensions of what weve done in Web services and our [Simple Object Access Protocol] relay.

To me, your Alerts mechanism represents the dawn of a real-time architecture.

Absolutely. I want to bring you back to a blog post that you made where you were expressing your frustration with the thousands of feeds and how far behind you are. Notification architectures like RSS are addictive because suddenly you see all sorts of things happening and changing and you want to aggregate them. Most people in RSS Land are just beginning. Theyre not as far on the curve as you are. Theyve only got a small number of feeds. But the fundamental problem that youve got is the problem that everybodys got: If youre a sophisticated information worker, youve got too much stuff going on. How can you prioritize and rank it in a way that makes you able to cope with life? Thats why I keep coming back [to this idea]: The fundamental nature of work is changing, and weve got a lot of stuff and people to deal with online.

What Groove has done in its notification and alert architecture is an extremely sophisticated way of enabling swarming around joined things that were working on. Once you start using Groove in this dimension, you cant even think about how you ever even did it in e-mail. Its hard to fathom that you would have this level of interaction—I did this, you did this, you did that—with the dynamics in e-mail.

The level of interaction that Im having with my development team around refining certain features—its staggering in terms of the number of messages and thoughts that are going back and forth, back and forth over the course of a day. And were doing this while were doing other stuff. Were multitasking.

RSS is in its infancy. Aggregators are in their infancy, and their job for the most part is aggregating conversations, personal and traditional publishing, whether its Yahoo News or the New York Times or something like that. Combine that with all the interactions that you do with individuals who you work with, and thats the future. Thats what weve got to contend with.

Anybody who wants to understand where the future of how you can cope with lots and lots of stuff going on… if you want to see where thats going, get into Groove. Thats what weve been doing for the last couple of years, looking at how our users are dealing with lots of information going on in lots of shared spaces and packaging that information in a highly aggregated form with prioritized notifications and so on.

Last year was the year of WiFi, the transition to laptops. Were all walking around with laptops now. Weve all got second machines. Were working from home. Were working from the client site. The fundamental nature of work for information workers has changed, and what most people need right now is essentially a virtual office and a solution to these synchronization and secure information-sharing needs. Groove is that, dead-on, in terms of the changing nature of work.

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