At the Internet Librarian conference earlier this month, one of the exhibitors, Opencola, Ltd., announced the release of Opencola PRO 1.0. The company says it is the first personal knowledge manager that allows users to improve knowledge by automating the collection of relevant information from a variety of sources, including news sites, multiple search engines, blogs, and other peers' publicly shared documents. The desktop application is targeted to individual knowledge workers. In addition, the company plans to introduce Opencola ENTERPRISE next year.
Opencola has selected seven search engines that can be searched with a single query: Google, AltaVista, Yahoo!, AllTheWeb, NorthernLight, Teoma, and Dmoz. Users can add their own news sources or blog sites to include in the search and can also choose to search more than 3,000 news sources provided by Moreover. A folder is automatically created for each search.
Users can also add text-based documents (HTML, text files, Adobe Acrobat PDF, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, or Microsoft Excel) to a folder to start a search. Opencola will extract the key phrases from the documents and use them to find relevant information or relevant peers. Users then tag results items that they feel to be relevant, and the Semantic Relevance Engine scores other documents (scale of 1 to 100) on how relevant they are to the tagged documents. It then alters the query based on a user's preferences. New search results are automatically delivered directly to folders at frequency intervals that are defined by the user (daily, weekly, or hourly).
Opencola PRO customers may access other registered users on the global Opencola Knowledge Network. Opencola analyzes similarities between peers on the Knowledge Network and can suggest a user in search results as a "relevant peer." Opencola allows customers to set permissions for every item in every folder residing within Opencola. Users can browse folders designated as "shared" and download files.
The Opencola product has been in development for several years and derives from the company's roots in distributed search (peer-to-peer) technology. Opencola was founded in 1999 as a developer of open source technology solutions. COLA at that point stood for "Collaborative Object Lookup Architecture." The company even launched an OpenCOLA soft drink as a marketing promotion and made available a "kitchen-sink" cola formula. According to the company, the formula has been permanently removed from public availability as of October 31, 2002. (Hint: Determined seekers can still find it at the Wayback Machine's archived page for the vendor ThinkGeek.com.)
Officially, the company states that it changed its strategic direction and is now focusing its core business on proprietary software solutions. An open source version of its Swarmcast technology—which never officially launched—is still available on the open Web. A more developed version of Swarmcast is now also a patented technology that's incorporated into the Opencola commercial product. Swarmcast allows users to download a file (if available) from multiple users concurrently. This reportedly offers improved speed and reliability.
According to a company representative, Opencola doesn't directly compete with document management or knowledge management packages. The company envisions partnering with those companies to have the Opencola peer-to-peer technology sit on top of other solutions. Opencola also sees an opportunity to go after smaller customer markets.
The company plans to introduce its Opencola ENTERPRISE product by spring 2003. It's currently in a pilot stage with three Fortune 500 companies. The product is said to resemble "Lotus Notes meets Napster." Opencola ENTERPRISE combines the Opencola PRO client with the Opencola ENTERPRISE Server to create a secure and proprietary Enterprise Knowledge Network. Secure instant messaging lets users connect directly to other peers. Enterprise users can search the multiple external content sources available with PRO as well as internal documents and corporate knowledge stored on their private network.
Dan Keldsen, an analyst with the Delphi Group, said the initial release for individuals is merely a foot in the door to the enterprise market. He feels that Opencola's product provides a significant demonstration of real business uses for a range of technology, namely peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing, the "global grid," instant messaging (IM), semantic relevance, personalization, and agents.
Keldsen noted that Opencola allows companies to tap into the "buried gold" of corporate knowledge, which isn't all captured safely in centralized locations but rather is sitting unorganized on users' desktops, e-mail folders, and bookmarks. "Enabling workers to cut to the chase and directly grab or push files from each other's desktops via the P2P framework removes potential delays to obtaining information."
Keldsen also commented on the benefit of using Opencola's secure IM. "The fact that Opencola is peer-to-peer IM (no central server between users) removes one of the major worries of IM use: that privileged information can be leaked outside of the safety of the company network by sniffing the traffic or having to pass this traffic through a third party's server."
Josh Walker of Forrester Research said that the trial period for the initial release is important for feedback, "but the real turning point for Opencola should come with the launch of the enterprise version." He feels that Opencola may have the small-company advantage with its narrow focus on exclusively providing this type of solution.
Opencola offers a free 30-day trial of Opencola PRO 1.0, which can be downloaded from the company's Web site (http://www.opencola.com). Registered trial users have the option to purchase Opencola PRO with a 1-year subscription to the Opencola Knowledge Network for $99. The company currently has about 6,000 users registered for the trial. Pricing for Opencola ENTERPRISE will be $20,000 for the server software, with per-user license fees starting at $199. The privately held company is based in Markham, Ontario, and employs about 40 people.