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The Center for Community Collaboration Technologies
M2: Analysis of Comparable Project Planning/Management Offerings

M2 Product/Service Profile: X-Community

Date: 06 Aug 2000

Copyright (c) 2000 Jim Salmons and Frank Castellucci
All Rights Reserved

Associated project: Specification Writing for Web-based Project Planning Software

Project URL: http://sohodojo.com/techsig/project-planning-project.html

sXc Project detail: http://sourcexchange.com/ProjectDetail?projectID=24 (SourceXchange is out of business.)

Project coordination: Sohodojo

Sponsors: Position open

Sponsors (M1-3): Opendesk.com and Collab.Net

Core Team: Jim Salmons and Frank Castellucci

1 Overview

The intent of this document is to provide feedback from analysis of products that are comparable to the general goals of the project. The focus is on key technological areas with an overriding concern in regards to role collaboration capability.

2 Product/Service Profile [ All assessments, this topic ]

2.1 Name of offering


2.2 Publisher/Author/Service-provider

X-Collaboration Software Corporation
186 Lincoln Street, Suite 800
Boston, MA 02111

2.3 URL for more information

For the X-Community service - http://x-community.com

For the company - http://x-collaboration.com

2.4 Type - one or more of local client, client/server, web service, etc.

A hosted web service.

Basic services are browser-based, however tight integration with Microsoft Office (and apparently Lotus and an increasing range of Windows-based 'document creation' applications). Advanced project planning and management is provided through a partnership with and use of a MS Project browser plug-in.

2.5 Pricing/Availability

The X-Community offering is has two 'entry-points'; Individual membership which is free and Business Centers which are essentially subscription-based hosting packages based on numbers of users and storage requirements.

Individual Membership: Each user has a sharable personal web drive with 25 Megs of disk space and access to any X-Community Business Center. Individual Memberships are free. Additional DB space is $0.50/Meg per month.

X-Community Business Centers: Companies and organizations pay for X-Community Business Centers on a usage basis. Pricing is based on the number of users who can access the Center and the storage space.

X-Community Business Centers are priced as follows:

  • Users/ Center Price/ Month/Center Price/Year/Center Storage included
  • Up to 10 $100.00 $1,080.00 100 MB
  • Up to 25 $250.00 $2,700.00 250 MB
  • Up to 50 $500.00 $5,400.00 500 MB
  • Up to 75 $750.00 $8,100.00 750 MB
  • Up to 100 $1,000.00 $10,800.00 1 Gig

Additional Storage: $0.50/MB/Month or $5.40/MB/Year

Teams greater than 100 users are priced on a quote basis.

2.6 Assessment based on hands-on experience or info-only?

The reviewer created an Individual membership and 30 trial of the Business Center features. The 'generic' X-Community plug-in was loaded. The more advanced MS-Office and MS-Project were not assessed during this initial assessment.

In addition, the EXTENSIVE on-line fact sheets, quick tours and tutorials were reviewed. A STRONG effort was made by the X-Collaboration team to develop instructional and support material equal to the effort that went into the actual service offering.

2.7 Reviewer comments

From what I have seen so far, this Application Service Provider (ASP) is 'setting the bar' in terms of currently deployed web-based teaming. This initial assessment will concentrate on the basic features. We'll have to consider a second-look to assess the advanced features which use MS-Office and MS Project integration.

3 System Constraints [ All assessments, this topic ]

3.1 Physical Limitations

X-Community is a web-based, real-time system that works best when users are connected and interactive with the server. There are import/export features that allow work to be performed in a disconnected mode. However, a full Business Center 'model state' cannot be captured locally and then synchronized with the server.

3.2 Software Limitations (operating systems, plug-ins, drivers)

Due to plug-in requirements, the current service REQUIRES a Windows-flavor OS and either a latest version Internet Explorer or Netscape browser with Java capabilities.

3.3 Implementation Limitations (number of projects, tasks per projects, users, roles)

Your pocketbook would appear to be the limit.

Technically in terms of project planning and management, the limits of the integrated MS Project features would be the complexity limitation. (See our MS Project assessment for related information.)

The current service offering 'defers' project planning and management to MS Project through X-Collaboration's strategic partnership with Microsoft as an ASP.

3.4 Does the software assume a specific project management methodology, if so which one(s)?

Well, in the sense that it is dependent on MS Project for project planning and management facilities, X-Community reflects the 'typical usage' approach of MS Project.

Ignoring the relationship to MS Project for the moment and reflecting on the basic services, X-Community can be seen as a 'work product'-focused system rather than a 'people-centric' system. That is, Team member access and Task assignments can be added to items in the 'Business Center >> Workspace >> Notecard" hierarchy.

3.5 Reviewer Comments

By deferring the project planning and management features to MS Project, the X-Collaboration team has concentrated its initial modeling and implementation effort around 'shared access to clustered, organized and annotated work products'.

4 Collaboration [ All assessments, this topic ]

4.1 What is the interaction model? (Real-time dynamic views, publish/subscribe, email, user queries, etc.)

As a web-based service, the system is most fruitfully used interactively on a live connection. Email notification and messaging supplements this interactive access.

4.2 When used in project planning mode, is team communication supported?

See the MS Project assessment for more on this dimension. Since the X-Community service is tightly integrated with MS Project for its project planning and management features, the X-Community capabilities are essentially those of MS Project.

Supplementing this MS Project feature-set, the 'Business Center > Whiteboard > Notecard' model supports fine-grained commenting, search tagging and simple tasking.

The X-Community service CAN be used without MS Project integration. In this case, users are limited to attaching simple Tasks to Whiteboard and Notecard objects.

4.3 When used in project monitoring mode (more modest a target than project management), how is team member interaction handled? ('project-manager -centric' or peer interaction; is there an ad hoc issue management facility, etc.)

Collaborative communication is facilitated by 'message threads' associated with the Whiteboard and Notecard objects. This association helps to focus team communication around the 'work product'-centric model of the current offering. While there is no explicit issue management and polling features, the messaging associated with Whiteboards and Notecards can be effectively used to raise, discuss and resolve (informally) issues related to a Project.

4.4 What are the 'key indicators' used to keep project team members and stakeholders informed of the state of the project?

Again, the MS Project integration gives X-Community a 'two-tier' level of use. When used with MS Project, the project management status reports and views are those of the MS Project plug-in (using Project Central).

When used 'raw' with elementary tasking associated with Whiteboards and Notecards, Tasks maintain a percentage completion attribute.

4.5 Does the product or service's concurrency features facilitate or hinder team member collaboration?

I'll defer any comment on the MS Project features of this offering. The flexible Web Drive file sharing and the Whiteboard/Notecard 'work product model' facilitate and encourage team collaboration.

4.6 Security features

X-Community uses 128-bit SSL connections for encryption and privacy. In addition, X-Community is an active member and supporter of Truste. Privacy and Security are a prominent feature of the X-Community offering. For more see:



4.7 Reviewer Comments

5 Role Support [ All assessments, this topic ]

5.1 What is the 'person/role' model?

The X-Community offering is Person/User-centric. There are no explicit Roles in the basic feature set. See MS Project for more in the case where MS Project integration is used.

While there are no modeled Roles, per se, there are three User Types that are a kind of implicit role assignment. An X-Community Member has access privileges to a Business Center and is eligible for assignment to Teams in that Center. A Center User can be one of the following types:

  • Administrator - Able to access all information units and able to change the following business center parameters; Center users, User groups, Search tags, Workspace types
  • System Users - Able to access units where they are Team Members, they can be assigned read/write or read-only access.
  • Guest Users - Able to access units where they are Team Members on a read-only basis (cannot be given read/write access).

The Person creating a Business Center is automatically designated an Administrator and invites other X-Community Members to use the Center.

5.2 How are 'person/role' elements related to 'organization/group' elements?

There are no Organization model elements although a Member's organizational affiliation can be maintained as a data attribute of the member.

Collections of Center Users can be added to a User Group which can be assigned in the same way as a Member to Information Unit (Whiteboards and Notecards) Teams.

5.3 Can one person fill many roles? Can one role be filled by many persons? (resource/skill pools, etc.)

Not applicable.

5.4 Reviewer Comments

6 Concurrency [ All assessments, this topic ]

Concurrency is defined by the implementations locking and transaction model. As such, the granularity of the locking will determine the liveliness of the system. The finer the granularity of locking, the more lively the interactions may be. Another aspect of concurrency is in regards to work-flow and the transaction model, does the system support "conversational or long-term transactions" for example.

Concurrency is defined by the implementations locking and transaction model. As such, the granularity of the locking will determine the liveliness of the system. The finer the granularity of locking, the more lively the interactions may be. Another aspect of concurrency is in regards to work-flow and the transaction model, does the system support "conversational or long-term transactions" for example.

6.1 Single or multi-user


6.2 What is the implementation technology supporting concurrency?

Not sure, but suspect that X-Collaboration's tight partnership with Microsoft would suggest that the server-side back end is MS-based.

6.3 Revision Management

X-Communities Notecards have a strong, unobtrusive version control system that is server-based. A Notecard is an 'access wrapper' for just about any 'separately storable work product' which can be anything from direct-entry text, an uploaded binary file, a web URL, etc. Once wrapped by a Notecard, the system maintains a version history of changes to the Notecard. Creator and creation date are maintained as well as who and when the item was last modified.

A History Panel provides an easy interface into the version history. A Rollback feature makes changing the Active Version quick and easy.

6.4 Reviewer Comments

The version control features are very nice... not as mega-powerful as, say, CVS but WAY easier and more intuitive to use.

7 Accessibility [ All assessments, this topic ]

7.1 Web-based

X-Community is a full web-based service which currently is limited to Windows-flavored clients.

7.2 Interchanges support (MS Project, XML, RDF, etc.)

STRONG support for MS Project integration. X-Community maps its 'Information Unit' architecture (Business Center, Whiteboard, Notecard) model to the Task decomposition of a MS Project project plan. This gives a tight integration of MS Project's project planning and management features to the X-Community architecture.

Since this exchange involves a 'mapping' between a 'people/task'-centric to an 'work product'-centric model, some Project Manager 'mindset' development will be required to take best advantage of these advanced features of the offering.

7.3 Import/Export (MS Project, text, etc.)

See above. The integration appears to be tight and interactive based on initial research. We'll revisit this when we assess MS Project.

7.4 Mobile Users

There is no 'disconnected' mode per se. Email communications and the 'off-line' working of 'Information Units' with the versioning history features gives the current offering a reasonable 'connect, figure out what to do, then disconnect and go do it' mode of operation.

7.5 Reviewer Comments

8 Project Proposal Management [ All assessments, this topic ]

8.1 Vision/Goals specification

The Whiteboard/Notecard architecture is deceptively powerful. While there is not explicit support for project proposal development, the general feature of the 'Information Unit' model is sufficiently flexible and powerful (in terms of easy version control) that is could be used early in a project during its proposal development.

8.2 Business Processing Rules

Not explicitly.

8.3 Implementation Specific Rules

Not explicitly.

8.4 Reviewer Comments

9 Requirements Management [ All assessments, this topic ]

9.1 Documentation Controls

See section 6.3 for comments about revision controls. When the Information Unit features are used for requirements management, the version control features would be very helpful.

9.2 Relationship to Task Management

None explicitly. However, if you were to create a Whiteboard Requirements hierarchy, the basic Task associations would be available. So the Requirements Management portion of your project would have the same features are other portions of a Project.

9.3 Implementation Specific Rules


9.4 Business Processing Rules


9.5 Reviewer Comments

10 Task Management [ All assessments, this topic ]

10.1 What is the 'activity/task' model?

The 'Informational Unit' model is a kind of 'work product'-centric implementation of an Activity/Task/Subtask decomposition model.

The 'Informational Unit' model is a hierarchical arrangement of Workspaces, Whiteboards and Notecards within a Business Center showing logical relationships.

A typical composition would consist of several Workspaces with each Workspace containing a number of Whiteboards. Each Whiteboard is composed of any number of Notecards.

Notecards contain the 'atomic level' information required for the an Activity performed by one or more Person/Users in a Business Center. Notecards can be associated with both Workspaces and Whiteboards. This gives a degree of compositional flexibility. But the X-Community offering may represent a 'mental model' find initially awkward based on prior experience with project-centric and task-subtask compositions.

Tasks can associated with the Information Units which are Whiteboards, Workspaces and Notecards. The 'information architecture' of a Business Center's Information Units describe a kind of 'structural' hierarchy of the Center's Problem Space. Since Tasks can be associated with any of these Information Units, there is a 'parallel decomposition' such that you can look at Tasks as Subtasks of 'parent relations' based on the information's structural relations.

Confusing sounding, most likely. The best way to understand how X-Community's Information Unit structural model maps to the more conventional process/activity/task model is by inspecting the rich and two-way integration between X-Community's Information Unit model and MS Project. X-Community supports a flexible, two-way integration between Business Center Whiteboards and MS Project Projects. We'll revisit this assessment during the MS Project assessment.

10.2 How are roles related to activity/tasks?

There as a few implied roles -- Project Manager (AKA Administrator), Team Member (AKA System User), Guest -- but these are primarily related to access control of the X-Community service. User access levels set Information Unit creation and change policies.

These access control 'roles' are peripheral to the underlying problem space model. The X-Community system is a Person/User system.

10.3 Is the product/service 'project-manager-centric' or can team members extend and/refine the plan within the realm of their own activity?

The Information Unit model of X-Community encourages what they call 'web-working'; that is, a highly-collaborative teaming environment... the Net-age next generation of groupware.

10.4 Views: Predefined, user-configurable or both

The X-Community plug-in is a highly-polished, browser-based interface to the X-Community service. Based on user access rights, a Business Center's Information Units are highly customizable. By typing Workspaces, you can create a range of 'problem space' views.

10.5 Status reporting mechanisms (percent complete reports, 'flag-raising' or issue management features)

Tasks maintain a 'percent complete' attribute. A flexible search tagging feature could be used to implement a 'hot ticket' or 'issue management' system.

When used in conjunction with MS Project, MS Project views onto X-Community Whiteboards (AKA MS Project Projects) provide MS Project's view filters and reporting features.

10.6 How are consumable/required task-specific resources handled?

They are not explicitly handled. Since the Information Unit model space is essentially 'work product'-centric, you could create typed Notecards to manage associated resource management requirements. But this is not a built-in aspect of the underlying model.

10.7 Reviewer Comments

11 Task Constraints [ All assessments, this topic ]

11.1 Task Dependency Internal (intra-project)

The Information Unit model of X-Community provides a 'structural decomposition' that allows tasks to be understood as task/subtask relations, but the 'information structural' approach of the X-Community model defers inter-task dependencies modeling to MS Project through its Whiteboard/Project mapping.

11.2 Task Dependency External (inter-project)

Whiteboards within a Business Center map to MS Project Projects. In this sense, the X-Community Information Unit model space represents a collection of related projects. So you have easy access to a multi-project collaboration space, but the Information Unit model space does not appear to provide explicit dependency relations between units across Whiteboards. (More information is needed here to more fully understand the integration between the X-Community and MS Project.

11.3 Resource constraints (expressed as percentage)

Don't think so, at least so far as in the default configuration. The reviewer did not have the time to explore what might be done through Information Unit Typing customization and using Notecard wrappers to introduce 'tool add-ins'.

11.4 User defined constraints

Don't think so, at least so far as in the default configuration. The reviewer did not have the time to explore what might be done through Information Unit Typing customization and using Notecard wrappers to introduce 'tool add-ins'.

11.5 Reviewer Comments

12 Reporting [ All assessments, this topic ]

12.1 Pre-defined, user-defined or both

Both. The X-Community plug-in provides a wide range of dynamic views onto the information structure of the Business Center. A number of these are aggregation and summary views that would be considered 'report views'. Most 'report views' support 'quick click' access to open an item editor on a selected Information Unit.

12.2 Publisher-push by project manager or team member dynamic views?

X-Community is like its name says, community-oriented. The emphasis is on dynamic, user-specific views based on secure, encrypted interactive connections.

The Project Manager, using Team Groups and Guest permissions can create some 'public read-only' views onto the Business Centers 'information space'. This would appear to support a kind of 'controlled chaos' in Business Centers with large numbers of users. Everyone could see a LOT of what is going on, while subsets of users with full access permissions work away.

12.3 Stakeholder-specific views?

It would appear that, by using Team Groups assignments and guest permissions, stakeholder views could be supported. Further, the tight integration of X-Community with MS Project means that the powers of MS Project and MS Project Central could be employed to provide stakeholder views onto X-Community Business Centers.

12.4 Multi-project analysis

The Business Center is an 'association container' that holds multiple 'projects' (AKA Whiteboards in X-Community). There is a great deal of 'part-subpart' composition combinations that can be created with the X-Community Information Units.

A Business Center is a shared space of many projects which can share Person/User pools. It does not appear that there is any 'roll-up' status reporting relationships among these multiple Whiteboard/Projects within a Business Center.

12.5 What-if analysis

No. What-if doesn't map too directly to the X-Community 'work product'-centric Information Unit model space.

12.6 Security features

X-Community used 128-bit SSL user connections to enforce the Person/User access restrictions. All database features and file access have access control with password features, etc.

12.7 Reviewer Comments

The X-Community current offering is 'ready for prime time'. With Notecard versioning and flexible user access controls, the X-Community service can be put to immediate use on real projects.

13 Multi-project Management [ All assessments, this topic ]

13.1 Role Template library?

A July 10th upgrade to the Knowledge and Project Management features of the X-Community offering has added a template feature with template library to capture and reuse project structures and, they say, processes. But these latest features were not available during the initial assessment.

Regardless of the new template capability, it isn't a Role-based template system since X-Community does not explicitly model Roles within the Project model space.

13.2 Repetitive Task library?

A July 10th upgrade to the Knowledge and Project Management features of the X-Community offering has added a template feature with template library to capture and reuse project structures and, they say, processes. But these latest features were not available during the initial assessment.

13.3 Reviewer Comments

14 Post Mortem [ All assessments, this topic ]

14.1 Analysis and Reporting

Roll your own. Not in the default conception, but could probably be supported with extensions using Workspace typing and Notecard wrappers of 'add-in' tools.

14.2 Is there an interface to a 'reputation-building' rating system for team members? If so, is there a 'disputed assessment' system to resolve conflicting opinions.


14.3 Reviewer Comments

15 Subjective Impressions [ All assessments, this topic ]

15.1 User Interface: Strengths/Weaknesses

If Mac and Unix plug-ins were equally available and functional, this would be a compelling candidate for a 'real project short list' of web-based team collaboration services.

The plug-in gives a 'best of both worlds' interface. Much of the interactive interface is browser-based. But a number of the complex data manipulation dialogs are rendered using 'client native' widgets and windows. This gives the X-Community user interface a usability that feels like you could use on a real project.

The X-Community 'plug in' is not 'browser-bound'. There is a System Tray interface that gives X-Community feature access. In this case, the 'native' dialog interfaces can be accessed without needing to be in a browser-based interaction to initiate that access.

As with any web-based service, user interface connection speed and reliability will have a great impact.

15.2 Project Modeling: Strengths/Weaknesses

The X-Community offering is an innovative solution. By partnering with Microsoft, X-Collaboration Software Corporation has strategically 'adopted' the 'market-leader/best-of-breed' MS Project 2000 product offering into its offering. For its part, X-Collaboration designed the 'parallel world' model of the Information Units 'work product'-centric X-Community offering. X-Collaboration then did its hard work tightly integrating MS Office and MS Project applications into their model space.

I'd need some extended, practical experience to have a more informed opinion. But from what I have seen, this is a leading, innovative offering.

15.3 Technology Platform: Strengths/Weaknesses

This is a classic paradox; X-Community's platform requirements and preferences are both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The tight integration with MS Project with its 'work product'-oriented shared Workspaces is a both a practical and innovative offering. But any platform alignment is going the slice the world along a 'haves and have-not' or some form of 'love-hate' dimension. As they say, you can't please everyone.

Fortunately, the platform bias can be remedied by the introduction of Macintosh and Unix plug-ins to include these OS users into the potential user pool.

15.4 Overall 'Wow' factor: 1 (low) to 5 (high)


15.5 Reviewer Comments

I want to 'kick the tires' on this offering with some real world project experience. The underlying model, together with the MS Project integration, is sufficiently innovative that past experience and assumptions can't tell you whether it would be a comfortable 'personal fit' or not. An 'immersion experience' would be needed to develop a better appreciation for the thought and design behind this offering.

16.0 Reviewer Profile

16.1 Reviewer name: Jim Salmons

16.2 Reviewer email: [snip]

16.3 Reviewer URL: http://sohdojo.com

16.4 Evaluation performed: July 15 - Aug 7, 2000

16.5 I DO NOT work for, or have an undisclosed relationship with, the author or publisher of the evaluated product or service:


16.6 Reviewer Comments: [Optionally tell us about your experience, interests or opinions about project planning and management.]


Version 0.9 - Draft
Version 1.0 - Final

### end of sxc24-m2-x-community-comparables.txt (Version 1.0) ###

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