Higher Level VTF: Exotic Equipment Systems

Higher Level VTF: Exotic Equipment Systems  

The "windows on a desktop" model is upward compatible, easily describing systems which are more advanced than our early favorite, FAXes and phones. For example, the visual telefacilitator could be using one of the shared writing&drawing tools which are beginning to crop up. The way such tools work is that they are "shared" over the Internet, meaning that each person (or subgroup) sees the same image on their computer screen. Not only is visual access shared      they all see a copy of the image      but manipulation is also shared. Any person viewing the image can write&draw on their copy, and the image everyone else sees immediately changes.

So the facilitator could be using such a shared tool to generate the text-graphic record of the meeting, and the members of the telegroup would see the record in the windows (of the shared writing&drawing tool) on their computer screen desktops. And, more adventurous groups could even participate in the recording. Using shared collaboration tools is designated as level-4 in the equipmentation hierarchy in figure 6.

However, currently such tools have some grave disadvantages: they are not very common, are sometimes very expensive, and often require a fair degree of homogeneity among the computers being linked (often the computers must all be the same brand; almost always they must all be running the same operating system). Shared collaboration tools will be important in the future, but for the moment we must depend on lower tech ways of getting the meeting record into the windows.

For example, if the record is written out as a Web document, then it can be viewed by virtually any computer on the Internet. Web-based VTF is level-3 in figure 6. Web viewers or "browsers" are free software, and run on all Unix computers as well as on Macs and PC's. However, there is a price in convenience that must be paid for this ubiquity, a disadvantage in comparison to the more esoteric shared tools. The price is this: the visual facilitator must be continually writing out new versions of the record in Web format, and the members of the telegroup must be continually refreshing the page to see the changes. But in each case this price is very small. For the facilitator, it only requires a mouse click or a keystroke every minute or so to write a new version (depending on the facilitation software used). And for the telegroup, the updating process is espe- cially effortless. In the worst case, a mouse click at the corresponding interval, just refresh-on-demand text- graphics using the Web. And in the best case for viewers, refresh is automatic via "server-side push."

VTF based on "Webcasting" is a natural. There may soon be a large number of text-graphic journalists offering many diverse kinds of facilitatory services via the Web.