Original Traction Product Proposal

August 24, 2015 · · Posted by Greg Lloyd

I hope you'll enjoy reading the original Traction Product Proposal, dated October 1997. Many early Traction concepts carried over directly to the Traction® TeamPage product first commercially released in July 2002, but we've also learned a lot since then - as you might hope! The Proposal and its Annotated References may be helpful to students interested in the history and evolution of hypertext.

Motivated by Chris Nuzum's recent Tripping Up Memory Lane talk at HyperKult 2015, and Takashi's Design Concepts followup, I'm happy to continue the Traction history theme. I've removed the Confidential markings from the Proposal, and released it under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial license (CC BY-NC 4.0), so you're welcome to read and use it for non-commercial purposes with attribution. Please link directly to this blog post.

Traction Software folk may make occasional blog posts referencing the Traction History project on this blog or on Twitter. Please follow @TractionTeam on Twitter, and feel free to message me as @roundtrip if you have questions. To review all of my posts on this TeamPage group blog, see Greg's Blog Posts.

The scribbled picture above from about the same time was my visualization of the Traction goal: To link and use anything that would cross a business person's desk using the Web as a platform, rather limiting hypertext to content stuffed inside silos like Lotus Notes.


When we introduced TeamPage in 2002, the word "blog" was often dogmatically defined as the unedited voice of a person. It was a tough slog to introduce a chronological stream of content created by a group of people rather than a single individual. The concept of an activity stream or Slack channel - a group of people talking in a shared space or channel - better captures what TeamPage does.

TeamPage extends the concept of an activity stream or channel to include:

  1. Editable entries with a full audit trail, including wiki history
  2. An extensible family of entry types (task, status, ...) and relationships (comment, ...)
  3. Dashboard and other views that collect, organize, and show entries in context
  4. A unified permission model that makes it simple to roll up entries across spaces and navigate or search by topic, context, author, or other criteria, see The Work Graph Model: TeamPage style

Clay Shirky got the concept in his 2003 review: Traction: Weblogs grow up in Social Software: A New Generation of Tools, Release 1.0 Vol 21, No. 5 (pdf). So did Jon Udell in his 2002 InfoWorld review: Getting Traction - Traction's enterprise Weblog system gets a grip on corporate KM.

"Somewhere around your 30th responses to a response to a response in Notes, you start to wonder where all this group discussion leads. Somewhere around the fifth time a document marches by with yet more groupware annotations and digital yellow stickies attached, you wonder if it is really all that wise to have all of that group editing taking place. After all, isn’t the purpose of a group to tap the greater intellect represented by all those fine thingies in the group and, once tapped, move quickly to a better decision? Shouldn’t the purpose of groupware be to build more intelligence rather than more features into the product?

While it’s useful to share documents, hold ad hoc discussions and post groupwide projects, the essence of groupware may be the ability to manage a business outcome by divining a group's thought process."

Eric Lundquist, The Next Big Thing in Groupware PC Week 1 July 1996.
Team Problem Solving from Traction Product Proposal Oct 1997 

The core Traction concept was granted US Patent 7,593,954.

The original business case for TeamPage cited project work as the most important use. We've learned that it's valuable give people a straightforward way to link action tracking, messaging, and collaborative content creation. By creating and tracking tasks that can be directly attached to TeamPage or external content, it's easy to see and stay on top of what's happening for you, by person, by channel, or in context of a specific TeamPage project.

We learned how to model permissions to extend work across many internal as well as external groups such as the clients of a consulting firm, or the suppliers and customers of a manufacturer. The TeamPage model of multiple permissioned spaces was added soon after the 1997 proposal. You can focus on any space (like a channel) as well as search and navigate across all spaces and entries you have permission to see.

By adding individual and group permissions to a space with an ACL model, internal and external groups share the same TeamPage server while seeing and participating in just the set of projects and activities that are appropriate for every individual. Comments, tasks, and tags can cross spaces - so it's simple for internal team members to have a more private discussion linked to a more public paragraph or question posted by an external customer. Streams, discussions, notifications, digests, navigation, tag clouds, and search all obey permissions defined by business rules to show you what you're interested in and have permission to see and nothing more - enforced at the core level.

Email and TeamPage has an interesting history. The 1997 proposal describes Traction as an alternative to broadcast email, but cites email as an important source for information to be be recorded and shared. An emailed Digest was one of the first features added to TeamPage based a beta customer's request. The Digest includes title links and content snippets gathered from the stream of events posted since the previous Digest was emailed. The content of each Digest is clipped to conform to what that person is permitted to see.

The Digest remains a popular features of TeamPage, later augmented by email notifications with auto threaded email replies: your reply to a TeamPage email notification is posted as a comment by you, linked at the right point in the discussion thread - requested by major consulting firm. I agree with Alan Lepofsky's point that email is one of many channels for messsages: we should flip our perspective to the stream of messages rather than the channel used to deliver each message, see Takashi's Eat your spinach post.

This combination of capabilities is particularly valuable for projects that intertwingle collaborative writing, team communication, and action tracking such as: quality management, product development, product support, consulting, and competitive intelligence. See The Work Graph Model: TeamPage style and TeamPage Solutions.

A note on links: Although some of the links in the proposal still work, many point to sites which have been moved, including Doug Engelbart references which have moved from bootstrap.org to dougengelbart.org. In most cases a bit of creative Googling will find the referenced page in a different location. If people are interested, I'll publish an editable version of the Annotation References section that can be used to share updated locations.


"Thoughtvectors in Concept Space badge" by @iamTalkyTina my posts | thoughtvectors.net


Tripping Up Memory Lane - Hyperkult 2015: Hypertext lessons learned talk by Traction Software CTO and Co-founder Chris Nuzum. Chris writes: "In 1996, after celebrating the 50th Anniversary of As We May Think at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and inspired by a long, encouraging talk with Doug Engelbart, I co-founded Traction Software (originally Twisted Systems, Inc.) and set out to design a memex-inspired literary machine for the augmentation of collective intelligence. In this talk, I’d like to demonstrate how the Traction Hypertext Journaling Engine underlying Traction Software’s TeamPage product borrows from and builds on insights and ideas from Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart, and Ted Nelson. I’ll also talk a bit about what ideas we’ve abandoned and why, and end with some thoughts on ideas that I think haven’t yet had their day."

Teampage hypertext journal: Design concepts, by Takashi Okutsu Director of Traction Software's Japanese Business Office. Takashi explains how TeamPage's append-only journal models editable content, links, and relationships − while maintaining a full audit trail. Takashi uses an animation cel analogy to illustrate how the effect of multiple entries in a TeamPage journal can be superimposed to show the effect edits at any point in time. For more detail, see Teampage's US Patent 7,593,954.

Traction Roots - Doug Engelbart - The source of the term Journal for the Traction TeamPage database is Douglas Engelbart's NLS system (later renamed Augment), which Doug developed in the 1960's as one of the first hypertext systems. Traction's time ordered database, entry + item ID addressing, and many Traction concepts were directly inspired by Doug's work. I'd also claim that Doug's Journal is the first blog - dating from 1969. More importantly, Doug's aim has never been "content management" or some buzzword - it's been improving the performance of teams dealing with complex and challenging tasks - "raising their collective IQ". Augmenting human intelligence is a challenging and noble goal for social software. In the late 1960's Doug created the Journal (along with the mouse, shared-screen interactive hypertext and video, dynamic outlining and many other inventions) to support the needs of high performance, problem solving teams.

Enterprise 2.0 - Letting hypertext out of its box - "I believe that the radical departure is the Web as the context of work: the universal medium, universal library, universal marketplace, and universal platform for personal as well as enterprise communication... In every previous generation hypertext system, the ability to read, search, link and communicate came with a terrible price: it might work well, but only if you were willing to put everything you wanted to work with into some sealed box, and convince everyone you wanted to work with to use the same box. From the earliest days of Vannevar Bush's Memex, the vision was universal, but the implementation was a siloed."

Borders, Spaces, and Places - With TeamPage, when you navigate, search, or link information, the borders separating the customer and internal spaces you have permission to read become transparent. You can still use the names of spaces created for particular customers to focus your attention on a particular issue or collection of content, but you effectively see one big wiki / weblog. Borders help you visualize the business context and intended audience. If a customer logs in to your TeamPage server, they see only the content, search results, tags, feeds, cross-reference links, and space names clipped to what they have permission to read. The content - and existence - of private collaboration spaces of other customers or reserved for internal use are hidden. Traction TeamPage extends faceted search, automatic notification, email digest content, commenting, and inline discussion to work transparently across spaces you have permission to read, while redacting content you don't have permission to see.

Intertwingled Work - Working and scaling like the Web. "... in the past, conversations could only be intertwingled across paper memos, faxes, written reports and email. Until the advent of the Web it wasn't possible to intertwingle conversations, networks, analysis and work in near-real time and global scale. Now that's trivial and essentially free with basic Web access."

Enterprise 2.0 and Observable Work "One unintended consequence of today's technology environment is to make the process of knowledge work less visible just when we need it to be more so. The end products of knowledge work are already highly refined abstractions; a financial analysis, project plan, consulting report, or article. Today, the evolution from germ of an idea through intermediate representations and false starts to finished product exists, if at all, as a series of morphing digital representations and ephemeral feedback interactions... The right starting point is to simply make the flow of work more visible. I suspect that this is one of the underlying attractions of social networking and micro-blogging. They promise to restore some visibility to digital team work that we lost in the first generation of tools." Jim McGee 23 Jun 2010  I agree with Jim's suggestion. I also suggest that both the flow of work and the collaborative work product recognize privacy in context for authoring, linking, tagging, discussion, content navigation and search that seamlessly connects the worlds of flow and content. This makes it possible for almost everyone in an enterprise to be potentially aware of almost everything their organization is doing - and who knows what - to the benefit of each individual and to the enterprise as a whole.

The Work Graph Model: TeamPage style - the social dance of getting things done and dealing with exceptions, while staying aware of what’s going on around you. TeamPage watches what you do, and automatically maintains two-way links and relationships as you edit, keeping an accurate version history of everything. You can easily see what changed, when, and who did what. TeamPage's work graph automatically connects articles, comments, status messages, tasks, milestones, projects, links, shared references, and relationships stored in TeamPage to the TeamPage profile of the person who created, edited or tagged the work, along with a time stamp for the action. TeamPage's work graph model includes permissioned access that automatically clips content to show just those work items, relationships, and search results each person is allowed to read. This makes it simple to use TeamPage for work that can cross boundaries, linking customers, suppliers, partners and internal teams with different permissions to different business activities on the same TeamPage server. TeamPages' work graph model allows you to put a private comment (or task) in a more private space where it's only visible to a smaller group. For example, an internal team discussion on a customer's question.

1 November 1997 | The Godfather: The Manhattan Project, Silicon Valley, The World Wide Web - G. Pascal Zachary writes in Wired Magazine: "Wherever you look in the information age, Vannevar Bush was there first... Some ambitious efforts to tame the Web's chaos are avowedly inspired by Bush. At Twisted Systems Inc. in Providence, Rhode Island, engineer Gregory Lloyd is designing better ways to record a user's associations between different Web sites. "There are Web tools that manage bookmarks, that help you find your place," Lloyd says. "Bookmarks are a start. But then the problem is managing your bookmarks. They can degenerate into a slush pile, which is not what Bush wanted." Lloyd is tight-lipped about his work toward a solution, but says flatly, "I'm building a memex, the holy grail."

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