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Babble, and its Web-based successor Loops, provide a chat-based collaboration environment that uses animation technology to show visual representations of discussion threads, people and the activity levels of participants. The systems illustrate who is present in a conversation, how recently they have spoken, and can show patterns of participation among multiple users.
The visual tool can help take presence awareness to a deeper level, allowing workers to know if a person is engaged in a specific subject or if they are able to be interrupted, according to Wendy Kellogg, manager of the social computing group at IBM.
Combining online conversation with abstract visual representations of people and activities, Babble and Loops use synchronous and asynchronous technologies to provide a community-oriented workspace.
Babble and Loops attempt to incorporate digital versions of social cues people depend on in face-to-face interactions into network and Web-based communications, Kellogg said.
"We are trying to make more things about people and activities visible within the collaboration environment," she said. "In face-to-face interactions, people decide their behaviour based on visual cues and signals but online often people are socially blind."
IBM also showed off an e-mail system at Lotusphere which provides visual representations of relationships among messages and tools to improve the flow of data.
The program includes a threaded discussion feature that highlights related messages within a discussion and shows a visual representation of the relationships between the parent message and replies. The feature also includes a text summarisation tool that crawls multiple messages to find the most current and relevant information. In addition, entire discussion threads can be treated as a single unit that can be printed, forwarded, or dragged and dropped into a separate message.
E-mail as a tool is ready for a quantum leap in terms of design and data flow, said Dan Gruen, IBM research scientist.
"The tools haven't changed drastically in the last 10 years. E-mail in corporations often is our attention stream, our to-do list, and our work history. The tools could be much smarter about managing that," he said.
IBM Research is also cooking up ways to extend the power of Sametime instant messaging through the use of peer-to-peer technology.
IBM's Quicksend project showed how a worker could use a plug-in tool to the Sametime client to send short messages to informal groups. Instead of logging into the QuickPlace application and setting up an e-meeting, a user could use the Quicksend tool within Sametime to send a short communication to multiple recipients.
Tapping peer-to-peer collaboration, the application can also easily enable sharing of applications, files, Web pages, and folders. The system relies on the Sametime server, but application sharing is created by a point-to-point link between the message recipient and the sender's hard drive.