When we realized we provide a collaboration software that does not collaborate with other Open-Xchange instances too well – let alone with users who don’t have our product – we felt something was wrong.
Looking at other solutions in our market only reinforced this feeling. It got even worse when we started looking at social networking sites like Facebook, Linked In as well as Google. Now we were convinced we should do something.
The time has come to open up these silos and liberate our data.
Opening up these silos cannot be done by APIs. APIs restrict access to developers and support the owner of the API rather than the owner of the data transferred. Defining standards for data is an approach that has failed many times because more often than not – just like with APIs – everybody wants to define such a standard. And control it and drive business from it.
The results are either proprietary or least common denominators, such as vCards which is limited in its ability to present comprehensive data and reuse that data for other purposes.
The answer is open source software, which can implement logic open for scrutiny by everybody. We also must:
Social Open-Xchange is a project that facilitates data exchange via html and microformats.
Browsers and the World Wide Web have become part of our culture. Making all communications between instances of Open-Xchange human readable by default we feel we do the maximum possible to not restrict access.
By using microformats (http://microformats.org) for all semantics, Open-Xchange knows about the data managed and it enables full access to the data contained. This includes the ability to have a hosted or in-house installation of Open-Xchange digest that data again.
Social OX turns Open-Xchange into a new breed of collaboration software. Different from conventional collaboration software solutions, Social OX can interact with other personal information managers, as well as with other instances of Social OX. The boundaries between different personal information management solutions vanish.
Users of Open-Xchange can
Open Source is much more efficient in defining standards than proprietary processes. Linux is a good example for this: when Linus Torvalds released the code very early – i.e. right at the beginning of Linux – the Linux community had a common foundation to work from – a standard.
Social Open-Xchange is providing the same for personal information data formats.
Of course there are standards in the area, e.g. vCard and iCal, but as it goes standards/specifications in IT are generally defined by the software that supports them. And since Open-Xchange is released under GPL2.0 openness is guaranteed.
Data standards are relevant, because they enable a couple of so far rather unusual features and capabilities for Social Open-Xchange:
The time is ripe to revisit semantic webs. There have been massive efforts to categorize the world and to build systems to support such efforts. Tim Berners Lee and Yahoo are two good examples of this. Both have tried and failed to build generic categories on top of the Internet, i.e. everything.
Social Open-Xchange is a more humble approach to the same topic. By restricting the initial focus on personal information data formats such as calendars, address books and messaging the field becomes well defined (by the capabilities of the software) and accessible.
With microformats.org a well publicized and already adopted way of embedding semantic markup in html exists. The implementation of Social Open-Xchange data as microformats (Open-Xchange Microformat, OXMF) enables the representation of Open-Xchange data where it belongs: in the eyes of the user. OXMF based communication is by default directly readable in a browser.
By enabling Open-Xchange to publish and subscribe to OXMF data, local and distributed processing of data is now possible. Multiple instances of Open-Xchange can use the same data with the same meaning at the same time.
Third party services can easily adopt the same mode of operations, mix and match their data as a separate set of microformats that is, and easily integrate with Social Open-Xchange.
An example would be a Google AppEngine based replicator that publishes changes to a person’s Google Calendar via OXMF and consumes updates to Google Calendar via OXMF. Via Google APIs on their side and OXMF towards Social Open-Xchange this integration becomes seamless.
There is a running preview available since q2 of 2009 at http://ox.io.
2010 brought a wealth of new scanner capabilities. Among others there are adapters for Yahoo, Googlemail, Facebook and more now. The definitiv list is in the code, just right click on any folder and see what it allows to import.
Aside from external content Open-Xchange can of course provide data from within the system.
We are commited to using standard container formats like microformats.org hcard and hcal. OXMF allows us to go beyond these containers and - going forward - will give us the ability to also provide additional meta data along with the same content. Examples are history of content, usage rights, folder paths etc. that are specific to our solution.
There is some preliminary support for publications of messaging and calendaring now, but the majority of the work still goes into
Stay tuned for more comprehensive support of Open-Xchange data types like Messages, Tasks and Calendars.
We are also working to get partner solutions offering document management, ERP, CRM services, and many more integrated.
Here are some examples:
A user can tag (markup) all his private contacts as “private”, all contact information subscribed from a social networking side as “myfacelinkedxing”, and all his business contacts as “mycompanyx”. On top of these classifications another tag “important” could mark all the contacts to always take along anyway.
There is also filters in Open-Xchange that allow for “all contacts with the last name Geek” etc.
The resulting data could reside in a folder in Open-Xchange that publishes data to a specific mobile device. There is no limit to the number of such folder/device combinations.
Because the relevant addresses are aggregated by the system, the contact list for the respective mobile phone will not disrupt the selection of data for other devices.
Another aggregate of contacts could be generated to contain all contacts from “linkedin” that are not part of “mycompanyx”, all contacts from “mycompanyx”, and all the contacts contained in a folder subscribed to a corporate address book.
The results can again be replicated to some mobile phone.
A user can subscribe to a public holiday calendar available from somewhere on the Internet. The user can also define calendars of black out times for personal and professional events and can separately maintain a travel schedule as a calendar.
Social OX then allows for aggregates of these calendars to be published.
Users of Open-Xchange and other systems able to parse and digest microformats can do a lot more with their data than others. But it is a major advantage of the upcoming beta version to be able to publish all content in Open-Xchange as html on a website.
People who maintain their calendar with Open-Xchange will be able to send overviews and invites to anybody with a browser and access to the internet
People who maintain profiles on social networks will be able to get their data back.
Calendaring will go from being too rigid and lacking in context (“Tuesday afternoon, 5pm?”) to supporting informed decisions based on a lot more data and an immediately actionable presentation of all other relevant participants’ data i.e. availability.
Search will be complemented by filtering. Queries like “show me all emails I received during this event and from that company” will become possible.