I attended an demonstration of Tidebreak's TeamSpot collaboration software yesterday as part of my adjunct appointment at Northwestern. It's an interesting product for co-located group work. Andrew Milne, the CEO, ran the demo.
Tidebreak aims to create products that support live interactions between people. I like how they talk about computer-supported collaboration: it is not a bunch of people looking over the shoulder of one person driving a computer (laptop or projected). It's people working on the same problem together, and they bounce from personal space to the public discussion with ease. You can also watch a demo video of TeamSpot. The CEO and CTO of the company came out of Stanford's Interactive Workspaces Project, where a lot of research on interactivity and computer supported collaborative work (CSCW) happens.
The main idea behind TeamSpot is that there is a public space where people come to work together. In that space is the public computer, usually with an oversized screen / projection so that everyone can see what is happening there. Rather than the expected log-in to the public computer, group members participate by opening their laptops and joining the space (that is managed by the public computer). As many people as can fit in the room can join the group.
Members of the group can now interact with each other in many ways. Beyond the obvious face-to-face conversation that happens, group members can work on the public computer from their machines, and they can exchange files, URL's and clipboard text with any or all machines in the group. Members of of the group can continue to work in private on their machine: no one else will see this work, and it is not logged by the public server.
So, how do you shift from working in private to working in public? They've made it quite simple: slide your pointer off the top of the screen, and you are now sending all commands to the public computer. When you are done, you slide the pointer back down. You can cut from your computer, slide up and paste into the public computer. And you are really working on the public computer, if your private machine is a Mac and the public is running Windows, you will have to remember the Windows keyboard commands for things like cut and paste.
Who gets priority when everyone wants to work on the public computer? Since this is a co-located group, the decision goes back to the people in the room. (Technically, the public machine takes the input, but it quickly becomes obvious that nothing can get done when two people are mousing / writing at once.)
To make things interesting (and confuse things a little more), there can actually be several "public" computers, meaning that there can be multiple computers with screens running for full-group consumption. But there is still only one group in the team space. As such, each installation of TeamSpot must be set up in its own physical space.
The future for Tidebreak is to develop a product beyond the co-located version I saw to something that allows real-time distributed collaboration. As with TeamSpot, they are aiming to support how people really work in distributed collaboration. They don't want to replicate WebEx or NetMeeting or video conferencing. Rather they want to make those things work the right way.