Ulm, Germany (Jan. 22nd, 1998) -- The CoBrow consortium today announced the release of the first publicly available version of the CoBrow toolkit. CoBrow is designed to bring people in the World Wide Web together and enable live communication between them.
The World Wide Web offers an abundance of information, important, entertaining, and sometimes useless. It is truly the expression of the age of information we are living in. Others call our times the communication age. The WWW is weak in the area of interpersonal communication however.
A new service - CoBrow - will be the enabling technology for WWW-based interpersonal communication. It may thus become the expression of the comunication age. How can CoBrow do this? CoBrow adds the concept of vicinity to the information space of the WWW. Vicinity in the sense that one will be able to electronically see the other surfers who are around.
An example may be appropriate at this point: Imagine being dropped into the center of London without a map. No problem? How about no people around? Scary! How would you get around? Find the things you are looking for? Find anything for that matter? But this is exactly what happens in the Web: no map, nobody to ask. This is the problem that CoBrow fixes: CoBrow will make those others around you visible - you will not be alone anymore. It brings people back to the information city.
Here is what happens while you surf with your favourite browser and CoBrow: You follow a link, come to a page. A little window will pop up and show a few icons and names. These are the names and symbols of other people looking at the same page or a page nearby. And most important: they are there for the same reasons you are: shop in a cyberstore, chat in a cybercafe, read a scientific paper on the top quark, or watch the Mars-rover.
But there is more: when you click one of the icons or names, CoBrow will build a voice channel to that person and you can talk. If your Internet connection is good, you will also get video - interpersonal, real-time communication.
CoBrow introduces a new application layer protocol to communicate user-space information. In addition it uses standard internet protocols and mechanisms to guarantee compatibilty and integration with existing tools and services.
The consortium leader, Dr. Konrad Froitzheim, has high hopes for CoBrow: "How will CoBrow change the WWW and the Internet? I don't know. I expect an abundance of new developments: customer support in cyber stores (finally!), people to ask for the way when you are lost in link-land, services helping people around the WWW, new friends found in cyberspace, professional relationsships, and just having a good time. Ultimately CoBrow's success depends on the imagination and the creativity of site-operators, developers, and users."
The CoBrow Consortium consists of three European Universities: the Distributed Systems Department of the Ulm University (Germany), the Computing Department of Lancaster University (United Kingdom), and the TIK at the ETH Zurich (Switzerland).
All three departments have been active in the field of multimedia communication technology for many years. Based on basic networking research, Internet protocols, and telecommunication technology, the departments have created many tools for synchronous communication, networking protocols, application sharing, and audio- and video streaming in the Internet. CoBrow is the latest development with the biggest commercial potential.
The CoBrow work is funded partially by the European Commission (DG XIII/C).