The Magic of Mash-ups: Co-browsing

What is co-browsing?

Co-browsing lets multiple users work together in their respective browsers through what look like shared screens and communicate via telepresence including video and audio.  The impact of this technology is enormous as companies become more virtual and the need for serious collaboration increases to be competitive in tough times.  To be able to share, interact and see the body language of your collaborator in real-time without extraordinary downloads to your PC or expensive third party solutions could simply change the way we work.  This innovation comes from not Google, or Yahoo but from IBM in a proof of concept project called Blue Spruce, a Web browser application platform that IBM is working on to allow simultaneous multiuser interactions enabled by AJAX and other standard technologies through the Web browser.

blue spruce header

The Blue Spruce project is IBM’s solution to the classic one-window, one-user limitation of current Web browsers.  The application is a mash-up that combines Web conferencing with voice and video and other data forms to let people share content including existing Web widgets – at the same time.  Two different users, possibly anywhere, are able to move their respective mouse pointers around the screen in the browser to click and make changes on the shared application, with the platform enabling concurrent interactions through the browser without disruptions.  Despite the appearance, the co-browsers aren’t actually sharing content. Both collaborators obtained a Web page through the Blue Spruce client, but the “events” enabled by the mouse are what is being sent to the Blue Spruce Co-Web Server.  The idea is that no matter where the two users are in the Internet world, they pick up the general data caches on both personal computers and react to the events.

The applications for co-browsing collaboration are numerous, especially for knowledge workers. In healthcare, IBM has used Blue Spruce to create an online “radiology theatre” product, currently at the prototype stage, which allows teams of medical experts to “simultaneously discuss and review patients’ medical test data using a Web browser.” The project is being run in collaboration with the Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston.  According to IBM, it has created a secure Web site that allows select medical experts at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to access and collaborate on data such as CT scans, MRIs, EKGs and other medical tests. Each medical expert can “talk and be seen through live streaming audio/video through their standard web connection, and have the ability to whiteboard over the Web page as well as input information to the patient’s record.” Basically it is a secure multimedia experience running inside a single browser window, using Blue Spruce as the platform.

It is important to note that Blue Spruce is not your typical “fat client” or downloaded application, but it is a fully browser-based application development platform, currently in development, which is being built on open Web standards. The main feature of Blue Spruce is that it allows for a combination of different Web components – data mashups, high-definition video, audio and graphics – to run simultaneously on the same browser page. It’s important to note that the Radiology Theatre app only requires a standard Web browser – so there’s nothing to download for the end user, in this case, doctors.

This is how IBM described how the new online radiology theatre will work:

 “A group of doctors can log into a secure Web site at the same time to review and analyze a patient’s recent battery of tests. For instance, a radiologist could use her mouse to circle an area on the CT scan of a lung that needs a closer look. Then using the mouse she could zoom into that scan to enlarge the view for all to see. An expert on lung cancer could use his mouse to show how the spot had changed from the last scan. And then, a pathologist could talk about patient treatments based on spots of that size depending on age and prior health history, paging through clinical data accessible on the site.”

“The theatre allows all these experts to discuss, tag and share information simultaneously, rather than paging through stacks of papers, calling physicians to discuss scan results and then charting the results. This collaborative consultation brings together the personal data, the experts and the clinical data in one physical, visual theatre.” 

The impact on rural medicine and the need for telemedicine for key healthcare experts is significantly advanced with this technology.
Perhaps the biggest potential benefit of the online radiology theatre is that it will enable experts from all over the world to consult on cases. The ability for multiple users to “co-browse” means they can interact in the browser in real-time and see each other’s changes.  Of course, since this is medical data, there are significant privacy implications involved in using the Internet to collaborate.  The time and cost savings from collaboration is important, but better and faster decision making is the key.

The need for inexpensive and minimally invasive techniques for real collaboration over the Internet is real and the backlog of potential applications is fun to consider.  Imagine reviewing your health care or insurance claims with a live person (and their reactions) at the insurance company to reduce cycle time, or collaborating on new product engineering drawings from the U.S. with your Chinese manufacturer.  Imagine the potential for teaching or training with key experts and a worldwide audience using a live whiteboard. Finally, imagine not paying big monthly fees for basic meeting collaboration needs on a daily basis.  Blue Spruce is really a technology to keep an eye on.

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