GROOVE: Collaborative Groupware System
by Rodolfo Long

 

Intro:

Groove is a collaborative groupware system that enables its users to communicate and interact directly with one another in a synchronous fashion. Groove supports both individuals and small groups interactions, like projects, meetings, business work, social activities, games, and so forth. The flexibility of the system makes it easy to be implemented as either a collaborative business application, or simply as a meeting space for families. The emphasis of Groove is in the users’ ability to directly control the content in their space or transceiver. All transceivers in Groove are saved locally in the users’ machines. When a user creates a transceiver, he can select among different shared space options:

Each of the spaces above have a specific set of tools. The following are tools that already exist in the spaces or that the users can add to their convenience: sketchpad, notepad, web browser, photos, links, schedule, brainstorming, and many more.
Before proceeding, it is interesting to note that Groove was started by Ray Ozzie, one of the builders of Lotus Notes three years ago, so it should not be a surprise if some of the architectural philosophy of Lotus Notes is seen in some features of Groove.

 

Typical Activities:

 

There is an extensive list of activities that users can do using Groove. One of the first things a user might do is create his transceiver for conversation and invite other users he knows via email or instant messaging. When the users invited to space get the message, they can double click on the "invitation file" (named something like Conversation Space.GRV), an invitation window appears, and they can accept or decline the invitation. Once in the shared space, the users can communicate with others via text-based chat, instant messaging or the microphone. Users can communicate via the text-based chat by typing their messages at the bottom of the screen where the chat area is located, or talk to one another using the microphone button, which is on the left side of the chat area. The chat area can also be hidden or display by pressing the chat button below the microphone button. While the users "talk", they can use other tools of the shared space. They can use the web browser tool to watch a webcast together, and comment on what is happening.

The shared space can be used then as communication tool. A conversation space can also serve as a bridge between business and client. A webmaster for example can communicate with his client using Groove to show the client the progress of his web site. They can browse the web site together in sync by pressing a button named "Navigate Together", which is at very bottom of the screen on the left hand side. The webmaster can get feedback from the client through any of the conversation tools.

Another possible activity can be a parent and his daughter exchanging photos and talking about her experience in college. They can use the pictures tool or the FamilyGroove tool set to accomplish this. With the pictures tool, the photos are shown one after another without any theme that ties them together. However, within the FamilyGroove tool set this is possible by using the Albums tool, parent and daughter can group sets of pictures together and label them depending on the event, sets of albums can also be created.

These are only some of the activities that can be done using Groove, there are a lot more and still more that are being created to meet specific needs of Groove users, like the Team Sports tool.

 

CSCW Features and Issues:

Groove’s main CSCW feature is synchronicity. The groupware system is always "aware" of who belongs to a given transceiver, and whether or not a member of that transceiver is currently on-line. This is possible thanks to the Groove relay service. The relay server gets all the changes made to the transceiver by its on-line members and saves them until the other member(s) get back on-line. The relay server then automatically updates the shared space(s) and tools of all the members that were offline, and erases the content from the server.

When using Groove it can soon become apparent the lack of some comfortable degree of workspace awareness. It is certain that members of a shared space can be aware of who is participating in it, especially the "owner" of the space who is the person that grants permission to all other members through invitation. However, it is sometimes difficult to know what all users in the shared space are doing at a given moment, if the users are concentrated on the manipulation of one or a couple of tools. Groove lacks an artifact that creates awareness. If members are working on a graphic using sketchpad, they can easily not realize that other members are trying to communicate with them through the chat. The groupware system lacks what Gutwin & Greenberg call feedthrough, which is feedback produced when artifacts in the system are manipulated to provide other members of the transceiver with cues of the actions performed—"feedthrough is also commonly associated with auditory feedback" (Gutwin & Greenberg, p. 210). In order to improve the user experience, Groove needs to implement a feature that allows feedthrough in the system.

Workspace navigation has some flexibility in Groove. As mentioned before, a member of a virtual group can navigate the workspace together with another member by pressing the "Navigate Together" button. This is very useful whenever a member needs to be shown how to do something in the system, or how to go about using the tools. It is also useful when members want to browse the Web together within the system.

Even though Groove is a well synchronized groupware system physically speaking, it still needs to implement artifacts that enhances coordination and awareness among the members of a group.

 

Strength and Weaknesses:

Once again, it is worth stating that Groove’s greatest strength is its synchronous nature. Every letter that users type and every pixel that user draw is automatically synced and saved on the machines of all the members of the workspace. Groove does not have a "save" button, it saves every change done to the space and then sends those changes to every member. If a member of a shared workspace adds a new tool to the space, say he downloads a VR viewer from the Web, Groove’s relay server get this information. When the members are on-line, the server updates all tools and plug-ins that were added to the space by downloading it to every member’s machine.

If left unattended, with no effective group awareness, this advantage of the system can become a hindrance. Let us illustrate, if members of a transceiver use the "file tool" to upload a Word document to work collaboratively on a paper, they might find it frustrating when they realize that the changes made last to the paper overwrites all other changes. That is to say that all previous changes are not saved automatically. This can occur because files that use external applications are not visible through the transceiver. There needs to be coordination among the members to overcome this obstacle. On the other hand, members can paste the content of the file onto the notepad tool and make changes interactively.

Another strength of Groove is its flexibility to adapt to the needs of its users. Users can add and manipulate tools however the find it more convenient to meet their specific needs. They can rename tools (or sets of tools) so that the appear more obvious to them, or name shared spaces to be more evocative of their collaboration goals.

There are more weaknesses. Peter Varhol in his "Collaboration in Peer Network Environment" article talks about the threat that Groove (and other groupware systems like it) embodies when it comes to security and on-line privacy. He says that the security that these systems provide are weak. Groove Networks states otherwise, they claim that the share spaces in Groove are completely private, that privacy is ensured by encryption and peer-based authentication. Mr. Varhol also affirms that there is a high likelihood that groupwares like Groove can become unmanageable very quickly.

 

Final Remarks:

In spite of the fact that Groove necessitates improvements from a usability stand point, it is a collaborative groupware system with a lot of potential. Groove has been compared to other collaborative systems, however none seem to have the comprehensive set of tools that this system provides its users with to give them a better and more cohesive virtual collaboration experience. One important thing that I have forgotten to mention is that Groove is at the moment in its "preview" or beta stage, we hope that when the final release comes out most of the issues addressed here would be solved or at least looked at for improvement in future relapses. It is true that some other peer-to-peer based systems released in the past like Groove (e.g. Napster) have lived a short life, we are still enthusiastic of the possibilities that it has to offer, and only when it comes out to the market can we really start to see what Groove its made of and its likelihood of survival.

 

 

References:

Groove Networks Web Site: http://www.groove.net

"Collaboration in the Peer Network environment"
by Peter Varhol:
http://www.lotus.com/developers/devbase.nsf/articles/doc2000112001

"Designing for Individuals, Designing for Groups":
Gutwin & Greenberg. CSCW 5734 Lecture Notes.