Collaboration Made Easier on the Web

Teamwork is at the heart of good business. It is a phrase embraced by every executive in the corporate environment, and it is a concept that can enhance development in today’s technology fields. The Web, in addition to all its other uses, can be used as a tool that fosters collaboration while reducing administration. The following two products are examples of how to use the Web to improve teamwork.

TeamSite, from Interwoven Inc. (www.interwoven.com), uses a real-time collaborative interface for Web production. It makes all employees part of the Web team, and keeps administration down by using a directory-based architecture and a browser interface.

Rich Peterson, manager of customer marketing at Interwoven, says this product solves a big problem that occurs when allowing others to contribute to a company's Web site. "How do you get more contributors without losing admin control?" he asks. Interwoven's answer is to set up a system where employees can contribute without directly affecting the site.

The administrator sets up work areas by telling TeamSite which files contributors have access to. Once a user's work area is defined, that user can customize his or her own interface. This procedure permits developers to work on applications while providers work on content, all at the same time with no worry of conflicting with what the other is doing. When done, they can use their own virtual copy to see the finished product before it's posted, much like a staging server.

When an item is finished and ready for posting, the Web administrator will get a notice to check for quality assurance before going live. There are several benefits of this process. One benefit is focusing of technical resources on technical work instead of worrying about Web production. The benefit to contributors is they can post content without knowledge of HTML. The administrator can set up templates from existing HTML pages, much like cascading style sheets, and put boxes where content should go.

The Web can be used for other forms of collaboration, too, that are not restricted to Web-based development. Construction companies have been using Framework Technologies Corp.’s (www.frametech.com) ActiveProject to help architects use their Web browsers to share information, charts, pictures and send messages to each other.

ActiveProject uses a browser-like interface that has four frames. The first frame spans across the top of the display and uses tabs to navigate to each part of a given project. The second frame is on the upper left and looks like the left frame of Windows Explorer. It shows the folders in each tabbed area. The next frame is below this one and acts as the right-hand portion of Windows Explorer, showing the files in each folder and details about each. All of these files can be customized by the administrator. Finally, the right frame shows the data in a chosen file, such as text or pictures, which can be edited and resaved into the database.

Another feature with a similarity to Windows Explorer is the ability to drag an item from the desktop and drop it into the frame. The file uploads to the server just as easily. For the administrator, one useful display shows what actions have been taken on the project and by what user and when.

Brian Giuffrida, director of marketing at Framework, says the only difficult part of the product is setting up the project manager and customizing the fields. He says Framework provides templates to make this process simpler and that the company will walk administrators through the setup process. If the users of the system reside behind firewalls, there may need to be some reconfiguration of firewall settings to use the system. Also, to optimize the client-side operation, Framework has plug-ins that it posts on its Web site.

Both TeamSite and ActiveProject provide a GUI interface that begins with an authorization login and adds security by allowing the setup of permissions through user levels. TeamSite lies on top of whatever Web server may be running. ActiveProject is an NT installation that requires the use of Active Server Pages.