IBM Lotus Quickr: Enhance team productivity with social computing

This article provides an overview of IBM Lotus Quickr with a focus on its core services. Lotus Quickr includes team places feature, content libraries, wikis, blogs, and connectors. Learn about the installation options and technical requirements for the product along with simple ways to customize the services.

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Tony Patton (aspatton@bellsouth.net), Consultant

Tony Patton is a consultant based in Louisville, Kentucky. He works with various technologies, including Lotus Notes/Domino, Java technology, and Microsoft .NET. He is the author of two books focusing on Lotus Notes/Domino development: Practical LotusScript and Domino Development with Java as well as weekly columns on CNet.com focusing on .NET and Web development. You can reach Tony at aspatton@bellsouth.net.



10 July 2007

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[Editor's note: The images and features shown in this article are for IBM Lotus Quickr services for IBM WebSphere Portal (J2EE). The capabilities and user interface for Lotus Quickr services for IBM Lotus Domino are somewhat different.]

Collaboration has always been a key focus for IBM Lotus, with IBM Lotus Notes as the flagship product. for Lotus. Lotus Notes–based products such as IBM Lotus QuickPlace and IBM Lotus Domino Document Manager enhanced the concept by leveraging and extending collaboration to provide services for teams as well as document management. IBM Lotus Quickr brings some of these features together. Teams can collaborate and share content online regardless of whether team members are within or outside the enterprise. This is part of IBM’s social networking push as you can tell from the features in Lotus Quickr, such as wikis and blogs.

Bringing people together

In any organization, employees are often part of numerous teams that may involve various projects and initiatives. These teams may be temporary, project-based teams or more permanent parts of an organization. With so many options, people need a way to easily connect to and communicate with their teams. Social computing realizes these goals using computer technology.

IBM has always embraced the concepts behind social computing. Two of the company's latest product offerings—Lotus Connections and Lotus Quickr—bring the concept to the forefront. Whereas IBM Lotus Connections helps users create online communities, Lotus Quickr focuses on team collaboration. It provides various tools necessary for teams to be successful, but the core components of Lotus Quickr aren’t new.


A new version

Lotus Quickr has been launched as version 8.0. Lotus Quickr is an evolution of a Web-based team collaboration product called Lotus QuickPlace. It builds on the core set of Lotus QuickPlace features and adds new capabilities. Lotus Quickr greatly enhances the Lotus QuickPlace user experience. In addition, it makes it accessible to external applications and provides robust document-management features. Lotus Quickr can take advantage of an IBM Lotus Domino installation or utilize IBM WebSphere Portal.


Platform options

Although existing Lotus QuickPlace customers are likely to stick with a Lotus Domino-based solution, Lotus Quickr provides a WebSphere Portal option as well. The following two installation options are available.

  • Lotus Quickr services for Lotus Domino. Takes advantage of the full realm of Lotus Domino services including, but not limited to clustering, replication, security, mail, single sign-on, directory, and Domino Off-Line Services that let users work when disconnected. It may be installed on Lotus Domino V7.0.2 Fix Pack 1 and higher on Sun Solaris v10, Microsoft Windows 2003 Server, IBM i5/OS V5R3 or V5R4, and IBM eServer pSeries (AIX).
  • Lotus Quickr services for WebSphere Portal. Supports the installation on both a single-server or clustered WebSphere Portal environment. The standard backend is IBM DB2, and you can use LDAP for directory services. The Lotus Quickr team places feature is the standard way users interact with a WebSphere Portal-based installation. It may be installed on Red Hat Enterprise Linux on x86, Microsoft Windows 2003 Server, and Microsoft Windows XP.

Let’s take a closer look at the product features that make Lotus Quickr such a valuable tool.


Features

The basic goal of Lotus Quickr is fostering team collaboration by providing a central online location for collaboration. Teams can share ideas through team blog postings and comments, items in the content library, and wiki pages. The core component of the environment that includes these features is team places. Figure 1 shows the basic Lotus Quickr welcome page.

Figure 1. The basic Lotus Quickr welcome page
The basic Lotus Quickr welcome page

You can view your own places with the My Places tab as well as places available to all users through the Public Places tab. The All tab displays the total list of places you can access, and the Favorites tab lists the places you've marked as favorites.

Team places

The team places feature is the main way of working with Lotus Quickr. It lets you easily create online places for projects and teams. Team places may be public or private; access to the team place may be restricted. You use the Create a Place link shown in figure 1 to create a new team place.

You may choose an existing template to streamline the process when you create a new place. Figure 2 shows the standard template list available with the product. Using a template allows you to easily create a place with a specific purpose, such as a team blog, a project library, or a wiki by taking care of the necessary steps automatically. You can use the Custom template to configure the services available within a team place.

Figure 2. Selecting the template when creating a new team place
Selecting the template when creating a new team place

For the purpose of demonstration, we chose the Team Place template from figure 2 to create the team place shown in figure 3. You can enter details such as name and description as well as customize the team place's URL.

Figure 3. Creating a new team place
Creating a new team place

Figure 4 shows the newly created team place.

Figure 4. The new team place
The new team place

This welcome page is a bit generic; click the Edit link to customize the welcome page to fit your needs. You use HTML to customize the welcome page, as shown in figure 5, where we have entered and saved the custom text for the welcome page.

Figure 5. Customizing the welcome page
Customizing the welcome page

Figure 6 provides a look at the new welcome page.

Figure 6. The new welcome page with custom HTML
The new welcome page with custom HTML

After you have created the new team place, you can use the tabs in the welcome page to view and work with its various elements. The elements available depend upon the template you use to create the team place. Because the example uses a team place, a team blog, a content library, and a wiki are available.

Team blog

A team blog lets team members present content and receive feedback. It provides an easy way to collaborate on any subject matter. Figure 7 shows the blog selected. Initially, the blog has no content. Click the New Post button to add entries to the blog easily.

Figure 7. Blog welcome page
Blog welcome page

Figure 8 shows the creation of a new blog entry.

Figure 8. Adding a new entry to the blog
Adding a new entry to the blog

Figure 9 shows the blog entry saved and viewed with one comment added.

Figure 9. Viewing the new blog post
Viewing the new blog post

Content library

Content libraries are an integral feature of Lotus Quickr. You can use them to easily store, organize, and share content. The content can be any type of file such as MP3, WAV, Microsoft Word, text, and so forth. A powerful feature is the ability to collaborate through check-in, check-out, and version control to manage the files in a content library. Figure 10 shows the content library included with the sample team place.

Figure 10. Content library page with no content
Content library page with no content

The content library shown in figure 10 includes a green box stating that you need to download a browser plug-in to enhance the user experience. This plug-in is an ActiveX control that provides added functionality.

The Upload link in the content library lets you add elements. Figure 11 shows the Upload option selected and a local file chosen to be uploaded.

Figure 11. Uploading a new file to the content library
Uploading a new file to the content library

You can upload one or more files as well as the entire contents of a folder; you can also import data from a feed such as an RSS feed. In this example, we selected a Microsoft Word document to upload to the content library. The Check In button lets you upload the file for use by the team, and the Save as Working Draft button uploads the file while restricting access to the user who uploaded it. Figure 12 shows the file's inclusion after we clicked the Check In button.

Figure 12. Newly uploaded file added to the content library
Newly uploaded file added to the content library

The mouse cursor is over the newly uploaded file in figure 12. This triggers some Ajax code to display details of the file in a pop-up window in the page. At the lower right in figure 12, you see the option "Drag desktop files and folders here." This is part of the previously installed plug-in, which lets you drag items from your local computer to this area on the Web page to add them to the content library.

Wiki

The Wikipedia site defines a wiki as a Web application designed to allow multiple authors to add, remove, and edit content. The multiple-author capability of wikis makes them effective tools for mass collaborative authoring. There is no better example of a wiki than the Wikipedia site itself.

This definition is accurate when you look at the wiki feature of Lotus Quickr. Figure 13 shows the standard wiki page for the sample team place.

Figure 13. Standard wiki for the sample team place
Standard wiki for the sample team place

You can edit the basic page by clicking the Edit Page button. To add a new page to the wiki, click New Page. Figure 14 shows the New Page option as details of the new page are entered.

Figure 14. Adding a new page to the wiki
Adding a new page to the wiki

Figure 15 shows the new page loaded for viewing. Team members can edit the page and add their own comments.

Figure 15. The new wiki page displayed
The new wiki page displayed

A key feature of the wiki is how it allows users to edit the content; therefore, tracking versions is important. The wiki feature of Lotus Quickr lets you view the history and versions of a wiki page. Figure 16 shows the history for the sample wiki page.

Figure 16. Viewing the history of the wiki page
Viewing the history of the wiki page

Figure 17 shows the version history for the sample wiki page.

Figure 17. Viewing the versions of the wiki page
Viewing the versions of the wiki page

You can select a version and click the Restore button to make it the current version displayed when users visit the wiki page.

Customization

Basic features such as a blog, a content library, and a wiki are great, but plenty more options are available for your use in team places. You can easily customize a team place by clicking the Customize link in the upper-right corner of the team place interface (as shown in figure 17). Figure 18 shows the option selected; it expands to display the available components.

Figure 18. The team place Customize option
The team place Customize option

The Customize options available in figure 18 may differ from one installation to another because you may have third-party components installed; you can click the plus (+) sign next to a component to add it to the current team place. Figure 19 shows the Project Tasks component selected. In the Ajax-powered pop-up window, you enter characteristics for the new component and then click OK to finalize the process.

Figure 19. Adding the Project Tasks component to a team place
Adding the Project Tasks component to a team place

Figure 20 shows the new Project Tasks component added to the team place. A new tab is added for the component. A new task has been added to it.

Figure 20. The new Project Tasks component added to the team place
The new Project Tasks component added to the team place

You can add a Feed component to the team place to display data from an RSS feed. Figure 21 shows the configuration of the new feed.

Figure 21. A new Feed component added to the team place
A new Feed component added to the team place

Figure 22 shows the configured Feed component displayed on the team place page with its own tab. The data from the Lotus Quickr blog is pulled from the RSS feed and displayed.

Figure 22. The new Feed component displayed in the team place
The new Feed component displayed in the team place

The customization options used in a team place are limited only by the needs of the team or person using the tool. Lotus Quickr includes the following components with a standard installation: team blog, feed reader, announcements, wiki, library, project tasks, and contacts.

Connectors

Lotus Quickr connectors are a powerful feature of Lotus Quickr that enables integration between business applications and Lotus Quickr. The Lotus Quickr connectors must be installed locally on a user's machine. Currently, connectors are available for the following applications:

  • IBM Lotus Notes
  • IBM Lotus Sametime V7.5
  • Microsoft Office
  • Microsoft Windows Explorer

These applications integrate with the content library feature of team places. Files in the content library can be opened and edited from within Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows Explorer. In addition, you can use document links to Lotus Quickr–based files in Lotus Notes mail and Lotus Sametime chats. Figure 23 demonstrates Lotus Quickr integration in Microsoft Windows Explorer. Lotus Quickr is used as a document-management tool: Content can be checked out and checked in from Microsoft Windows Explorer.

Figure 23. Accessing Lotus Quickr files through Microsoft Windows Explorer
Accessing Lotus Quickr files via Microsoft Windows Explorer

Installing the Lotus Quickr components adds a Lotus Tools menu to Microsoft Word. Figure 24 shows this new menu being used to interact with Lotus Quickr.

Figure 24. Accessing Lotus Quickr files via Microsoft Word
Accessing Lotus Quickr files via Microsoft Word

IBM will continue to develop connectors for other popular business applications to broaden the reach of Lotus Quickr.


Feeds

Another key feature of Lotus Quickr is its broad support for RSS/Atom-based feeds. You've already seen how to use the Feed component to stay abreast of another blog when you're customizing the team place user interface. Users can utilize the same approach to keep up with the items in your team place. This includes the team blog, the wiki, and the content library areas as denoted by the Subscribe to this link in each window (see figures 7, 10, and 15). The windows also include the standard icon (RSS icon ) for such feeds. Each area provides a feed to which users can subscribe; this further demonstrates IBM's dedication to open standards. Users can place these feeds on their own blogs, thus keeping up with a Lotus Quickr team place without actually visiting it.


Conclusion

The focus of Lotus Quickr is providing the necessary tools to improve team collaboration and communication. The multiple tools and customization options available with the product allow it to meet any team's needs. One team may prefer blogging while another focuses on wikis to communicate with team members. In addition, the content-management capabilities offered by content libraries provide a central location to store and maintain important content for your team and organization.

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