What is groupware? I define it in a very general way as any technology that links human minds into collaborative relationships. Since we'll have to wait a few years for direct mind hookups, current groupware systems rely on the exchange of documents that record what we do and say.
The Internet has widely popularized three distinct -- yet interrelated -- methods of document exchange: the Web, email, and Usenet conferencing. The confluence of these modes makes the Internet the mother of all groupware applications. I found Oleg on the Usenet, by way of a browser, and then we communicated using email. During this process an ad-hoc group formed, including Oleg and myself primarily, but also indirectly some Perl module authors and some of my client's technical staff. Unbounded by time, geography, or corporate affiliation, this group briefly focused attention on a problem, pooled knowledge about it, then disbanded. This is Internet groupware in action.
Although we use these modes of communication every day, we tend to take them for granted. That's one reason why we don't exploit them as fully as we should on our intranets. Another is that most intranets fail to recreate the full suite of groupware tools available on the Internet. Intranets always use Web servers to host applications and serve files. And they always support e-mail. But they rarely offer Usenet-style conferencing services tailored for company-wide, departmental, and workgroup use. There's a huge opportunity to deliver these services on intranets, and huge benefits flow from doing so.