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Book Review: Practical Internet Groupware

Practical Internet Groupware
by Jon Udell

In his book "Practical Internet Groupware", former BYTE magazine editor Jon Udell layout an architecture that links human minds into collaborative relationships. Base on his actual experience in building BYTE's intranet as well as the magazine's public online services, he gave his insight on the powerful use of Internet.

Among the many IT books I have read, this book stand out as sublime, even avant-garde. Got a question? Search the Internet, send a follow up email to folks you have never met. That's something many of us have probably done without much thinking. Yet Jon would step back and reflect on the dynamic that had happened. An ad-hoc workgroup was formed between him and several person on one particular task. The collaboration was unbounded by time, geography or corporate affiliation. He strived to grasp the subtle interactions and to facilitate this flow of information on the Internet.

People are lazy and do not like to learn or adapt to complex rules impose by computer systems. On the other hand simple rules and clever UI tweak can often make interactions spontaneous and effective. Use an appropriate subject for a message is one good example. The author discussed one of the oldest groupware on the Internet, the Usenet newsgroups. He termed it conferencing and explained why it is a better channel for some kind of interactions compare to email. Many of us who get caught in lengthy email debate would be delighted to know there are more effective way to conduct this kind of discussion. Indeed a seamless integration of web, email, newsgroup and a searchable document database are the components that make a formidable groupware application.

Unlike most IT books, he did not focus on any single platform, computer language or a technology. Whether it is a tool from Microsoft or its competitors, a freeware or a commercial product, he would use it if he see fits. Throughout the book are short, unglamorous, but nevertheless working code samples. Given I read this 6 years after its 1999 publishing date, many of the code or specific technologies are already considered obsoleted. Yet the insight that stem from these early system are just as relevant today. Think just what is the core component of web 2.0 technology? User participation!

Perhaps nothing reveal more about this book than its front cover. The 'practical' in the 'Practical Internet Groupware' means everything is derived from actual experience and real code rather than a theoretical discussion. Yet it is in small print while the 'Internet Groupware' is emphasize in the banner. That's because the code and the actual systems are just starting points that spawn the exploration of threads that link people into collaborative relationship. This is an immensely powerful Internet application we have yet to master.

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