4.7 Technologies and the tacit dimension continued
Box 4.5 Technology briefing: audiovisual Webcasting
The emergence of the internet and private, higher-capacity corporate intranets makes it possible to ‘broadcast’ over digital networks, saving time and money since staff do not have to physically gather in one location. The term webcasting is used to describe web-based audiovisual broadcasts. These enable individuals to make (for instance) slide presentations to staff dispersed all over the world. All that is needed to receive them is access to the Web via a web browser, possibly enhanced with special ‘plug-ins’ (software extensions), depending on the particular technologies used to encode audio, video and slides.
The Open University's Knowledge Media Institute (KMi) has been developing its own webcasting technologies which it has deployed in both university and corporate contexts. Screen 4 shows a user interface for receiving a live or replayed Stadium webcast.
Box 4.6 Technology briefing: internet video conferencing
Video conferencing over the internet or intranet is becoming increasingly commonplace thanks to robust, usable new tools. Many people first encountered it using the NetMeeting tool built into Microsoft Windows. Plug in a webcam and microphone, and you could hold two-way video conferences which could be expanded to multi-way conferences using special extensions. Video conferencing is now a standard offering in the freely distributed instant messaging clients offered by Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and many other internet providers. Other vendors such as Macromedia offer a server which allows developers to build in audio/video conferencing to their own applications very easily. See, for example, The Open University's FlashMeeting system (), which enables the booking and recording of video conferences with the only requirement on end-users being a web browser with the standard Macromedia Flash browser plug-in (as well as a webcam and microphone, of course). These tools emphasise ease of use for the end-users direct from their desktop or laptop, but to do so sacrifices quality in some respect: video images are still quite small, or it may be possible for only one person to speak at a time. Flashmeeting is currently available for use in OpenLearn.
A different emphasis is sought in the emerging Access Grid environment (www.accessgrid.org) which is being developed to exploit the next generation internet for science and business, called the Grid. The Access Grid provides large, high-quality video images and full-duplex audio (people can speak over each other). Special conferencing rooms can be set up which are designed to maximise the quality of audio and video, with high-quality cameras, projectors and microphones.
Stepping back a few paces, let us think about the space of possibilities opened up by tools of this sort. Figure 8 shows a simple framework for relating different groupware systems, with some examples of technologies included. Many of the most popular intranet groupware systems currently being adopted for knowledge management, such as Lotus Notes, are essentially helping dispersed staff to communicate synchronously (different place/same time) or asynchronously (different place/different time).
Extensions can be added to Figure 7 if other dimensions are also important to a comparison of systems. One is whether the place and time are predictable or unpredictable; another is how many people are sending information and how many are receiving. Thus, if we take the example of a shared electronic whiteboard on an intranet or the internet (same time/different place), we also have the option of a single author broadcasting their whiteboard (from one) to just one recipient (to one), or to many users all tuning into this ‘broadcast’ (to many), each of whom might also be able to annotate the whiteboard, turning it into a ‘multicast’ (from many/to many). This is summarised in Figure 8.
Think about the main technologies that support communication in your work and place them in the matrices in Figures 7 and 8.