The Collective Work Internet Layer

Increasingly, as people and companies cooperate via Internet technologies, we need to connect people who are widely distributed but who are working on similar problems and would benefit from being put in touch with one another, especially if their work interferes or reinforces each other: i.e. performing collective work. Increasingly, exactly the right people, and no others, need to be notified of the right information at the right time, even if they don't know they need to know. Further, actions, in response, by the recipients need to be correct, and thus supported by the underlying computer system.

In general, if people are working on various tasks in pursuit of a larger objective, they should be notified when task performance by other people impacts their own work, either negatively or positively, even though they may not have realized the possibility of such previously. And they must be able to act correctly on such notifications.

Merely facilitating information access or allowing people to subscribe to information sources is insufficient. Such "collaborative" technologies require that people can always anticipate what they need to know, or that some others will do so for them. And that someone will know exactly what to do in each case. The ideal solution would not require such prior knowledge and would provide a pro-active system layer supporting cooperation.

There are technologies emerging that will enable such functionality, the chief of which is semantics. This had its application roots in early collaborative filtering and has evolved today into book recommendations and dating services. Today, the major middleware companies are developing common sets of "business objects" that provide computational semantics for people, tasks, and information. As more databases and personal profiles begin to use these common business semantics, especially for SOA, there is a tremendous potential for real Internet computing over distributed information sources and servers. We need, and can provide, at a minimum, "business dating".

The Stanford Logic Group, in cooperation with SAP, is taking advantage of this situation by developing a new platform using "computational logic": a technology for reasoning with such semantics that goes well beyond existing business rules technologies. This technology allows people to use "logical spreadsheets", "semantic email addressing", immediate process synthesis, and other emerging technolgies that allow companies to be extremely effective, especially when interoperating among departments and customers. Ultimately, computational logic and semantics will be another layer in the Internet technology stack that facilitates many more useful communications among participants in complex enterprises than are possible today.