As more and more individuals opt to work as independent contractors, or as telecommuters, why not look at staffing your projects with people located in other parts of the world?

Exploiting the potential power of the collaborative Web

December 1999 marks 10 years since Tim Berners-Lee first envisioned the World Wide Web. Since then, visionaries have envisioned a virtual world where borders disappear and people work collaboratively, and individuals and corporations have striven to deliver on this vision.

So the question that begs to be asked is, “Are we there yet?”

In my opinion, we are at the threshold, and what has transpired until now is merely the steps up to the threshold. To understand the potential of collaborative Web development one must first truly understand it.

Collaborative Web development is more then just a place where one can share files – it is a place where people can gather in real-time regardless of geographical location, time and available technology. This single Web site must provide a mechanism where one can build a team, share digital assets and resources, view and comment on the contents of files and discuss project issues in real-time with all team members.

The potential for this is enormous. With the state of current technology, it is still very difficult and expensive to work with individuals beyond a small geographical region. Time zones wreak havoc even within North America, let alone the world, but imagine a world where time zones cease to exist, where you can simply leave detailed instructions (including voice, diagrams and text) for team members on the other side of the world. Just as you’re going to bed, they’re busy retrieving your instructions just as if you were there. By the time you get up in the morning the job is done.

As more and more individuals opt to work as independent contractors, or as telecommuters, why not look at staffing your projects with people located in other parts of the world? After all, the goal of any IT manager is to build the best team possible. Imagine servicing your customers with faster turn-around times and at lower costs.

Cost can be reduced by lower overhead (less office space, desktop computers, etc.) and by taking advantage of lower labour costs in other parts of the world. Heard about the IT labour shortage? Well, somewhere in the world there is someone just waiting to meet your requirements. So use the Web and take advantage of labour beyond your boarders.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned early, Web-based services required to deliver on this potential are not there, just yet. However, some recently-released Web based tools can deliver on part of this vision.

This includes several well-established sites where you can set-up file sharing, team calendars and even team discussion areas. Major players in this area include Visto ( and WebEx ( At the lower end, there are a plethora of sites offering free disk space, which will allow you to share your files. (Check out and

Yet to fulfil the potential of the collaborative Web, all these players need to step-up and take to us to the next level. They need to offer more than just a workspace; they need to offer the tools that make managing all of this easier. Several Web sites have recently emerged which attempt to take us beyond the threshold to the state of a truly collaborative Web work place by providing Web based project management. These include (but are not limited to): Iteamwork (, MediaLot ( and Mediadepot ( What is of real interest is that MediaLot has combined project management with free disk space and digital asset management (version control, private and public folders etc.).

While these sites still lack the ability for users to communicate in real-time, it’s only a matter of time until that arrives. How long will it be until someone integrates IP voice technology into their existing collaborative environments, allowing team members from anywhere in the world to communicate in real time? Chat rooms may be fine for some, but when it comes to business everyone still likes to hear a human voice, which conveys emotions far better than can a keyboard.

As these tools evolve along with advances in technology, it becomes a matter of a few years or perhaps a few months before the Web gives birth to a true real-time collaborative space.

K’necht is president of K’nechtology Inc., a Toronto-based consulting company. He can be reached at