Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Crossing the Gulch

Anyone worth their marketing salt will attest they have read Geoffry Moore's "Crossing the Chasm". And if they're worth their salt and they haven't read it, then they won't admit it. For the folks that haven't read it, it's about how you market new technologies.

We have been focusing on two technologies recently: SharePoint and Groove. We've brought our project management expertise to both, but what's really been interesting is how successful SharePoint has been crossing the chasm while Groove has had a bit harder go of it. Why is it interesting? Because not a lot separates the functionality of SharePoint from the functionality of Groove.


I'm currently involved with building the next version of our tool, and it will have some really exciting new features. Perhaps the feature I'm most excited about is our integration with Groove 2007. After Microsoft purchased Groove in 2005, we realized that SharePoint and Groove were not two radically divergent means of collaboration, but really two similar solutions for harnessing collaboration and distribution. Imagine a river. Information is flowing; how do you want to distribute it? Or interact with it? On one back bank you have people that like a broad reach and an easy deployment. On the other bank you have people that like a targetted distribution and a rich environment. It turns out we can all get along.

It struck me as I laid out the abstraction layer for the two systems was how easy the work was. Maybe the sleep deprivation caused by two young kids sparked a brief moment of genius while I specified the architecture we would need. Or maybe TeamDirection got really lucky that they sleep deprived guy they assigned the abstraction layer to wouldn't have to think too hard since the feature sets were so similar.

Both SharePoint and Groove use a workspace metaphor to encapsulate work. Both systems use tools (web parts in SharePoint and Tools in Groove) to provide functionality for specific kinds of work: a file library, a discussion list, membership(!). There are two differences between the two:

1) SharePoint is centralized and therefore ideal for massive information distribution
2) Groove is decentralized and therefore ideal for targetted information distribution

And that's about it. Sure the actual APIs between the two are different. And you can do things with decentralized code you can't do with centralized code (like work offline!). And you can do things with centralized code you can't do with decentralized code (like check out a document). But these are artifacts of the implementations-- the actual architecture is more similar than not. It's not a chasm that separates SharePoint and Groove, but a gulch.

So why did SharePoint achieve such popularity while Groove lagged behind? Nothing more than the natural evolution of software. What's old is new again (did you know that old mainframes make great web servers?). Groove simply wasn't old enough to be new again. I think it was a brilliant move by Microsoft to purchase Groove for it really is the mirror of SharePoint's rising star. But SharePoint doesn't solve all the worlds collaboration problems any more than Groove does. Groove doesn't need to cross the chasm (or gulch), but just improve steadily until the user community comes to it.

Where does that leave TeamDirection? Hopefully in the gulch right between the two, which is a great place to build a bridge. TeamDirection Project for SharePoint will soon become TeamDirection Project for SharePoint and Groove-- at which point our marketing department will kick into high gear for a slightly shorter name (I'll be pushing for IntelliGantt). I can imagine a small focused group using Groove to plan a project, and a larger group using SharePoint to execute it. Or a large project in SharePoint broken into multiple smaller projects to be executed by focused Groove teams.

We believe collaboration is a very broad category best served by at least two different strategies (centralized AND distributed) and Office 2007 will have two of the best. We plan to be the well-thought-out, friendly interface managing the complex distribution of information between them, so you can just focus on your projects and get the job done.

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