Thoughts about Groove

20 Mar ’05

I can still remember first hearing about Groove.  It had come out of nowhere – or rather, stealth mode, where it had been beavering away silently, to be sprung on us without warning one otherwise unremarkable day.  "We" at the time was Hotline Communications, one of the early P2P platforms, and an idea even now still ahead of its time.  I was VP General Counsel and we were preparing to roll out a new version and a new business model.  We had new money, new blood and a new attitude.  But when Groove was launched, I knew we were dead – turn out the lights, close the doors and give the keys to the landlord – we’re dead.

OK, not dead, but we had our work cut out for us.  It wasn’t any one thing about Groove – it was the entire package.  The app was a bit bloated, but it worked, it was tightly integrated with MS Office and it was simple to understand.  Groove was plugged in where it mattered, Ray Ozzie was spoken of almost as a visionary and the rumour was they had US$25M in the bank.

We on the other hand were still grappling with a nasty IP lawsuit that had our source code squirreled away under a bed on the other side of the planet – the result of one founder’s malcontented midnight flight from Canada, leaving our only copy of the source code double-encrypted – and seemingly legions of lawyers feverishly working away to recover our intellectual property, their billing clocks all tick-tocking in unison.  We had stars in our eyes and the world at our feet, but we couldn’t get at the source, so the next version – and all the revenue we thought it would certainly bring – had to wait.

And then there was Ray.

In the end, none of it much mattered, I suppose.  We won the case, but had lost our momentum. The crash came and the entire market for innovative software ran under the furniture, to shiver anxiously for a few years while everyone tried to figure out exactly what had just happened (other than Groove, of course, which went out and raised $51M from Microsoft).   Raising money, raising attention – raising anything, even morale – in that climate was near impossible, and we were no different.  Ultimately, it all quietly slipped away and the team split up, everyone going off to refocus and reboot.

 I look at the P2P market now and despite the growth of collaborative software no one has yet satisfied the need that Hotline targeted.  Blogs, wikis, Flickr, BitTorrent – they all fill a part of it – but there is still no one P2P app that allows the novice user to quickly establish a multimedia content-sharing community. Even though, with the proliferation of rich content and the commoditization of broadband, the opportunity has never been greater.

When Groove launched, it was obvious that P2P would eventually find its way into the OS. Even more so after Sharepoint launched. And now, with Microsoft’s acquisition of Groove, that’s certainly a few steps closer. But still, it’s now been 5 years since that direction became obvious and we’re still a long way away. One has to ask, when will collaborative online tools truly come into their own?

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