Online collaboration often consists of little more than forwarding links or snippets from a Web page to a friend or colleague with a few comments dropped in. IBM is hoping to change this by letting people share the browser itself. This is the idea behind Blue Spruce, an experimental browser project that IBM hopes may change the way many people use the Web.
David Boloker, CTO of emerging Internet technology at IBM’s software group in Boston, says that Blue Spruce is a logical progression for the browser. After spending several years researching mashups–applications built by bolting together several smaller pieces of software–Boloker and his colleagues realized that many of the same tools could be used to build a tool for collaborative Web browsing.
The browser in front of him shows the result. It features real-time video of Boloker and a colleague in one corner, a streaming video news clip in the center, and real-time stock data at the bottom. Both Boloker and his colleagues can control the page using separate cursors. And, using a special feature, any changes that they make to the page show up in a different color.
Blue Spruce is not, in fact, a completely new browser; it’s just a clever way of linking together existing browsers (the current prototype works with a modified version of Apple’s Safari). After logging in to the Blue Spruce server, several users can interact with Web pages and applications while the Blue Spruce software makes that server think that it’s dealing with a single browser. Anything that a user does on the shared page is sent to the Blue Spruce server, which sends the change down to other participants.
“We really started focusing on asking, ‘How do I take that browser container and extend it much further than has ever been done before?’” Boloker says. Instead of having to forward a Web link via e-mail or instant message, Boloker’s group wanted to create a system that would let people share information online as easily as if they were sitting in front of the same desk. “We’re trying to replicate face-to-face interaction,” Boloker says. He adds that this goes beyond Web conferencing because it allows multiple users to interact with pages and Web applications, rather than letting just one user take control.