Collaborating on real-estate: A potential real-estate buyer and an agent could view real-estate data from Google Maps, Trulia, and Zillow using the software. Either party could control the Web page or input data.
IBM hopes that Blue Spruce can prove useful for many business workers. For example, financial analysts might start the morning by navigating to a shared Blue Spruce Web page, where they analyze news stories and changes in the stock market together. If the users don’t want to share an entire Web page, the project also has a “huddle” mode that lets them create shared work spaces that contain only limited information.
Although Blue Spruce currently works with only one browser, it is built with broader compatibility in mind. It uses the Web markup language HTML 5, which enables its real-time video and audio feeds without additional software. This is an unfinished standard, but it should eventually be adopted by other browsers. The demonstration system is also built on top of the WebKit, a rendering engine used by both Apple’s Safari browser and Google’s Chrome browser that includes some features of HTML 5. Until all browsers support HTML 5, Boloker says, his group will make Blue Spruce work by building add-ons.
Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor in New York University’s interactive telecommunications program and author of the book Here Comes Everybody, says that the project is most significant in that it shows that IBM has identified the Web as a powerful business platform. “IBM, the great seller of Big Iron and custom software, has decided that simplicity plus ubiquity is a better strategy for them,” Shirky says. By moving the work environment into the browser, he says, the company is acknowledging a fact of modern computing: people need tools that will be easy to use no matter what operating system they run or what programs they have, and the browser may be the best way to provide them.
Although Blue Spruce is still a research project, Boloker says that IBM plans to test it early next year with companies in the financial and health-care industries. Assuming all goes well, he says, IBM will expand to six test customers later in 2009.