michael sippey on Thu, 27 Mar 1997 06:43:47 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> retro-push: outsourcing the intranet


pit has asked me to post this "stating the obvious" piece from 3/3/97 to
the list.



r e t r o - p u s h
   the email version of stating the obvious
   for the week of march 3, 1997


Outsourcing the Intranet
by Michael Sippey

"Push" may be the buzzword du jour in media circles, but in the real world
some of us aren't necessarily looking for fancier screen savers.  We're
still looking for tools that can actually help us get some work done.  

Netscape, with the announcement of Communicator, has bundled their Internet
telephony, whiteboard and chat application into a mini-suite called
Netscape Conference.  Conference enables voice conferencing, text chat and
whiteboard markup simultaneously, and also provides a peer-to-peer file
transfer program.  Meanwhile, Microsoft's NetMeeting offers similar
functionality  -- whiteboard, chat, Internet telephony -- as well as
OLE-based application sharing.  If you and your partner-in-crime are both
running the Win32 platform, you can hand over control of your OLE-aware
application to the person on the other end.  "Here, Fred.  Let me drive
that spreadsheet for a little while..."

These tools are a step in the right direction, since they enable long
distance collaboration without requiring a host server.  I can be at home
with my 28.8 dialup connection and collaborate with my colleague across the
bay without needing a sysadmin to give us the appropriate rights.  But
while it's great that the tools are personal, the problem is that they only
operate in real time.  It's nice to play with a "whiteboard" paint program
over a dialup line, but what happens when one of us is a night owl, and
needs control of that spreadsheet at three in the morning?

When it comes to collaboration technology, the three major software
providers - Lotus, Netscape and Microsoft - are focused behind the
firewall, where the money is.  And I'm sure there are enough communication
and collaboration problems behind those firewalls to keep them occupied for
some time.  But there is a large market of potential collaborators that
need more than just whiteboards and text chat.  There are folks out there
that need threaded discussion groups and secure web spaces and document
sharing, but don't have access to their own server technologies to run a
full-blown installation of Netscape Collabra or Lotus Notes.

Imagine this scenario:  four or five geographically dispersed friends start
a business together, Widgets, Inc., designing, building and selling widgets
online.  In their brainstorming phase, they send ten or fifteen lengthy
email messages a day to each other, tossing around ideas.  But after a few
weeks, things start to get a little more complicated.  Jill is working on
market sizing.  Bob is working on the financials.  John is gathering
competitive data.  And Jane is writing the marketing strategy white paper.
All of these documents are dependent upon one another, and the team is
relying on email attachments to send revisions back and forth.

A few months in, they realize that their organizational memory is locked up
in everyone's Eudora folders, in those dozens of email messages they've
stored away.  What happens when they bring on employee number six, do they
print out all the old email and say "here's the company?"  They realize
that they need some threaded, archived discussion space, but they need it
to be private and secure, since they're wary of all those competitors John
is scoping out.  Essentially, they'd like to farm out their Intranet.

This is a perfect opportunity for a savvy ISP to break the choke-hold of
flat-fee Internet access.  This is not a collaboration product I'm
proposing, but a collaboration service.

I would argue that as an ISP there's money to be made in establishing
subscription-based collaboration services, using standard tools.  A perfect
service would provide the following...

*   Secure web space for "internal" web pages
*   A private, secure news server for threaded discussions
*   A document library application, which would enable participants to
"check out" documents for revision.  It should keep track of who has which
document, and when it's scheduled to be "checked in" for viewing by other
members of the team.
*   The usual ISP services -- email, domain hosting, listservices, dialup
connectivity, etc.

Finally, all of these services should be based on standard tools, so that
when Widget, Inc. does buckle down, hire an IS manager and install their
own T1 line, they can transfer their outsourced intranet onto their own
equipment without a hitch.  Or, if Widgets, Inc. doesn't quite cut the
mustard, the ISP should provide them a tape archive of all their materials,
shut down their services, and be ready for when any one of them does the
Silicon Valley shuffle and hooks up with a brand new team designing a
better strain of widgets...


a n n o u n c e m e n t s

this week's piece is permanently archived

check out the network diagram, a map to industry incest


h e l p / a b o u t

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