Home Social and Enterprise Groupware Primer

Social and Enterprise Groupware Primer

Written by Ebrahim Ezzy and edited by Richard

The term groupware refers to applications that
facilitate real-time communication, coordination and collaboration amongst groups of
people. A number of startups are working hard to develop the nascent groupware market, so
in this post we identify some of those startups and provide an overview of where the
market is heading. 

What is Groupware?

Groupware has existed (in various forms) since the invention of email. What is new now
is the way that groupware is available on every web-enabled PC – through desktop
clients such as Groove, Colligo, SocialText (Enterprise Edition) or
web-based suites like Joyent, Zimbra, Atlassian, Goowy
, and many others.

Current groupware offerings combine personal and group work management. They
provide personal project execution and work management tools – including chat
systems, meeting schedulers, messaging, conferencing, whiteboards, etc. What all these
things have in common is that they facilitate groups working together.

Social Groupware

As a recent poll suggested, 70% of you prefer niche
social networks connectable via a meta social network, over a giant centralized social
network with thousands of members. We’re calling the former Social
and the latter Social Networks.

Social groupware products allow the creation of remotely hosted
user-groups, special-interest groups – or any other group of like-minded people who share
similar passions, interests and goals. 

Besides the popular ones – CollectiveX, iMeem, Multiply, PeopleAggregator, and
Wetpaint – which we’ve
profiled already on R/WW
, there are two more promising social groupwares worth
checking out:

CommonGate is a relatively new social groupware
that allows creation of communal weblogs – or “theme-based communities” as they refer to
them. Here is an example of a community for web

SixApart’s Vox launched recently –
it is a personal blogging service with privacy controls, so that family and friends only
can view the content. It also has hooks into some popular web services, such as Flickr,
Photobucket and YouTube.

Enterprise Groupware

Enterprise groupware enables more effective interaction with networked information
systems. Groupware products are becoming increasingly important in the marketplace

  • They help businesses to work more efficiently with improved use of resources.
  • They permit better coordination of activities by reducing/eliminating time and space
    barriers, and speeding business processes.  
  • There is an organizational movement from personal computing to work-group or
    team-based collaboration, with the idea that it’ll improve productivity.

Groupware and collaboration tools help businesses a lot – and what’s more they have
never been so cheaply available.

Examples include Atlassian, SocialText, Groove, Colligo, TeamDirection, Joyent,
TeamSpace, Zimbra, ZohoX. We will review these in detail in a separate post.

Virtual Teams and Groupware

Many service professionals believe and rely on the common adage that “50% of
success is just showing up
” – not considering the future virtual workplace in mind.
However, these days, letting information workers not show
up is becoming a key ingredient to competitive success.

Everything of the Web 2.0 era can be traced to the advances brought about by
collaborating teams of distributed participants, whose primary mode of
interaction was virtual. 

Smart employers know they have a far better chance of hiring the best talents if they
don’t expect all of them to be located in the same place. For example 37signals, the popular web 2.0 company that developed winners like
Basecamp and Backpack, spreads out over 4 cities and 8 time zones. From Provo Utah to
Copenhagen Denmark. In this 24×7 world, geographically dispersed virtual teams like those
at 37signals are at an advantage.

Groupware makes it possible for these virtual teams to keep precise track of
project status, maintain complete communications records, monitor deadlines and
outstanding problems that need attention, and manage tasks that must be completed in
certain sequences, etc. 

As a result of groupware, virtual teams are quicker, smarter and often more productive
than conventional teams working in a typical workplace. 

Communication tools

A major portion of work in any business is tied to communications of different
types. Taking advantage of enterprise groupware technologies for
communications, businesses can drastically improve on productivity, efficiency and
ultimately profitability. Let’s quickly review some of these technologies:

Email; has been the principal form of communication and a strong
driver of productivity and efficiency for most businesses. Enterprise Groupware takes
email to the next level by providing structured email communication, that
automates and improves business processes and increases workflow productivity.

Chat; once considered taboo in the workplace, is now the standard
form of communication after email. It enables faster responses, quicker problem
resolutions and effective team management.

Weblog; enables businesses and entrepreneurs to share information
instantly and frequently – and reach out to their customers in a more casual manner.
Weblogs are also effective in educating potential customers and engaging them in two-way
conversations around related topics.  

Conferencing; allows individuals to communicate and create
virtual learning or meeting environments online, instantaneously with anyone – anywhere,
at anytime. Most services enable participants to share documents, applications, web sites
or even presentations with others.

Collaboration tools

People working alongside one another as in a typical workplace – learning
and interacting with each other in order to get smarter –
is not collaboration. It can just result in
blind-leading-the-blind. Collaboration requires goals and is maximally effective
when it results in the creation of a communal mind. The possibilities of innovation,
efficiency, and productivity are endless only when the whole is greater than the sum
of its parts

Collaborative groupware applications are designed to streamline project management and
workflow systems; and allow collaboration on processes like inventory management,
customer service, project and task management. This collaborative environment
enables virtual teams to plan, organize, innovate and drive projects to completion in a
timely fashion.

Workflow systems; most sophisticated Content Management Systems have
workflow, which manages “how tasks
are structured and who performs them, what their relative order is, how they are
synchronized, how information flows to support the tasks and how tasks are being

Office Suites; bundles up various office applications – increasingly
as a web-based suite.

Project & task management; helps establish clear and
explicit expectations – along with establishing goals, timetables and methods – for
monitoring progress.

Personal & shared calendars; helps team members keep track
of tasks, appointments, deadlines, plan and schedule initiatives; and since they
aren’t hand-written, there’s less room for misinterpretation.

Future outlook

Having evolved over the past several decades, the time is ripe for groupware. The
potential of groupware applications to greatly enhance efficiencies in personal and
business operations is driving widespread interest in them.

What’s more it will continue to evolve as time progresses – and new and different
demands are made on applications being used within the realms of group interaction.


Overall, groupware has changed the way people communicate and the way business is

It has facilitated the creation, management and sharing of information though various
channels of communication. This communication and collaboration when applied, sums up to
a highly productive and shared environment which accelerates productivity. It also
facilitates easier management of files, documents, and data in general.

Groupware will always remain only as strong as the abilities of the people who use it.
But when groupware is successful, the benefits accrued are dramatic.

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