There’s no doubt about it; the cloud is changing the world. Cloud services enhance our professional and personal lives, improve our health, help us communicate, and do much more for us in an ever-growing list of benefits.
We shared the Top 10 cloud technologies making the biggest impact in a previous post. Now we’ll look more closely at the fourth item on the list: collaboration.
Online collaboration is older than you might think.
The Mother of All Demos
Way back in 1968, a computer science researcher at Stanford University named Douglas Engelbart demonstrated the first online collaboration tools during a presentation now known as the Mother of All Demos.
In a dry monotone that belied the revolutionary nature of the presentation, Engelbart gave hundreds of computer conference attendees at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium their very first glimpse of hyperlinks, copying and pasting, and a computer mouse, among other breakthroughs. Tying it all together: real-time video conferencing and collaborative text editing.
Engelbart and his Department-of-Defense-funded team at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) received a standing ovation, and for good reason. They had just revealed the future; the technologies they developed formed the basis of much that we take for granted today in interactive computing. And we’re still just realizing the full potential of perhaps the most powerful piece of all in the Mother of All Demos: online collaboration.
At the end of his presentation, Engelbart mentioned a new project that his team was working on: something called the ARPA computer network, which would achieve fruition in about a year, Engelbart said, with “some 20 experimental computers in a network.” The goal: online collaboration across the country with lag-times of less than a tenth of a second. That network, which did indeed go online in 1969, comprised the first nodes on what was to become the modern internet.
Online collaboration was a key part of the fledgling network’s purpose from the beginning, first for computer scientists and other researchers wishing to share information, and evolving into the commercial cloud-based systems used by millions of people and organizations today.
At their core, cloud collaboration tools are designed to move data between two or more parties across the internet and keep them in sync—whether it’s video, information about a shared document, presentations, or even gaming worlds. These days, collaboration tools include:
- Scheduling applications
- Messaging apps
- File sharing platforms
- Document collaboration tools
- Video conferencing platforms
- Presentation tools
- Telemedicine systems
- Design tools
All of these systems stem from Douglas Engelbart’s vision of more than half a century ago for computers augmenting human intellect and intuition in ways that could allow people to work together from anywhere in the world. Which is why, in addition to his fame as the mastermind of the Mother of All Demos, Engelbart is also known as the father of groupware.
But to work at the scale required of today’s systems, online collaboration tools need far more than the 20-or-so computers making individual connections that Engelbart mentioned in the Mother of All Demos. They need the “thinking centers,” the data centers predicted by Engelbart contemporary J.C. Licklider.
The massive computing power and storage in data centers—such as those operated by T5 Data Centers—that make the cloud possible will also enable the next wave of collaboration tools.
Cloud Collaboration’s Next Wave
New online collaboration tools, enabled by the cloud and, for example, T5 Data Centers, will do more than allow users to work on the same documents, designs, and presentations. They will also let users work remotely via telerobotics, receive medical treatment in telemedicine kiosks, meet in virtual reality conference rooms, and have telesurgery performed on them by the best specialists in the world.
As with the tools Engelbart presented in the Mother of All Demos, many of these technologies already exist, even if only in prototype form. And as with the mouse, hyperlinks, video conferencing, and all the rest of the then-futuristic technologies demoed in 1968, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches up with them.