My “Replacing Lotus” blog series from 2017 attracted quite a bit of interest and I have been asked on a number of occasions if I planned to write any more on this topic. A lot has happened since then warranting an update.
The Original Series
The blog articles were fun and I enjoyed writing them. I found out the articles were also being read inside HCL. After a series of subsequent discussions between Red Pill Now and HCL we were retained by HCL to assist them in the development of a what can best be described as a complete re-imagination of what a social collaboration client for Domino might look like. That’s right, I now have the honor and distinct pleasure of taking some of those ideas I wrote about in my blog series and using them as part of the creation of a new generation Lotus that is being called Places. Its a dream come true for any Lotus enthusiast.
What is Places?
Simply put Places is designed to be a fresh interpretation of the collaboration space, one that specifically includes no-code and low-code development. So far we really only have two constraints on our work:-
What did we show?
At Icon UK we had the opportunity show the second iteration of thinking for Places — building on the initial demonstration by Jason Roy Gary at Engage 2018. A lot of things may still get changed, but we are starting to build out some of the fundamentals for the product as the initial feature set.
Global (Domain) search
One of our goals is to make it as easy (or easier) to find information inside your own company as it is to find information external to your company (via the Internet). To that end, we were able to demonstrate the integration of Elasticsearch with Domino databases. We demonstrated how it should be possible to search any Notes database on a server, or domain, with type-ahead support to make search easier to use.
We actually had a lot of things going on in the demonstration that we never had enough time to fully explain. This included the editing of the same document in the Notes client, resulting in the search index being updated in real time when the search was repeated. Unknown to the demonstrators, Devin (Spanky) Olson was sitting in the audience with an iPad that had a beta copy of HCL Nomad installed. The Nomad client was used to create new content in the same database that was then showing up in the search results.
The Awesome Bar
The entry point for the search was what we are currently referring to as the Awesome Bar. When completed the awesome bar is going to do a lot more than search. Our ultimate goal is to make this a natural language interface to access information and perform tasks. This will include useful features such as voice input and language translation. You can expect to see a lot more functionality for the Awesome bar shown in later demonstrations.
Real-Time Collaborative Editing
We are very interested in implementing many of the good ideas that were promised for the Notes platform over the years but never found their way into the product. One of those is the ability to have two or more people editing the same Notes document at the same time. We were able to show how a second person (Jason) could be invited to collaborate on a document, establishing a place in which the document appeared, a list of current collaborators, and a chat window with which to collaborate outside the document itself. Changes made by one person were then shown in real time to anyone else viewing or editing the document.
And while the Notes client does not support collaborative editing, changes made using a Notes client are reported back to the Places client. If the document is being viewed in Places, the content saved by the Notes client is displayed immediately. If the document is being edited in Places, the Places client will warn the user, before publishing their own changes, that other changes have been made.
Note: The demonstration showed only a few of the tools that could or should ultimately be available to facilitate real-time work collaboration.
In our vision for collaboration, social capabilities such as chat should not be viewed as stand-alone applications. Rather they should be core capabilities that can be performed in the context of any thing that is being worked on. Historically we have tended to view chat as being a dialog between two or more people. We rarely give a lot of regard to the other things around which those conversations are based. IBM Connections tried to address this through the concept of Communities. Not all chats need to be persistent, but when they are, it should always be possible to provide context to all the things involved in the discussion by leaving a historical record of the collaboration that took place in getting work done. In the demonstration we used the example of a Notes document (Alice’s Adventures) and showed how chat could be used as part of the collaboration on the document that could then be saved as part of the history for the document.
For the demonstration we used the existing capabilities of the Graph API that is included in the OpenNTF Domino API (ODA) to connect social interactions such as chat to any”thing” inside a Notes database such as a Notes document. Graph is almost certainly going to be a core component of Places, so expect to see expansion of the NSF container to include native support for both Document and Graph databases.
The demonstration showed how both comments and chat could be added as social capabilities when editing the content of a thing (document). As we see it, all social capabilities such as like, share, tag, and rate should be made available as part of the platform for use by all things, including Notes applications. In 2018, social is something that should be assumed to always be there and only taken away when not relevant, instead of the other way round.
At the end of the demonstration we demonstrated another new feature we are exploring known as Timeline which provides the ability to automatically store a timeline of the history of changes made to a thing (Notes document), providing the ability for an editor to revert back to a previous version of the document. In the demonstration we were able to undo all the changes made during the demonstration.
Who is developing Places?
Its important to understand the role Red Pill Now is playing with the development of HCL Places. We are an innovation squad whose primary role is to imagine a new product and then build working prototypes of those ideas. Once developed, the screen designs and the APIs act as a form of requirements for the product to be built by HCL. HCL are currently building a large team of people to build Places and they already have several engineers embedded into the Red Pill Now team to initiate the transfer of those ideas into the product.
Over the coming months we will also be looking to create opportunities for the community itself to generate ideas and provide feedback on HCL Places. This is part of an overall strategy to build the product WITH the community to which it will serve rather than is being something that is built by us for the community.
What Happens Next?
It took the Places team six weeks to take the concept demonstrated by Jason Roy Gary at Engage and completely re-imagine that initial code with the demonstration given at Icon.UK. We now have a new six-week development phase to explore some more of the ideas that have been developed. We also had the opportunity at Icon UK of getting 20 people together in a room for two hours to get some invaluable feedback and ideas from the local community.
Our current goal, is to have a beta available at Engage next year, so mark May 14-15 in your calendar and come see what we have to show. If you have any ideas, thoughts, or views related to Places before then, please share, we really want to know.