The application, dubbed Domino Service Provider Application, runs on the Lotus Domino Web publishing component of its Notes groupware. Along with ISPs (Internet Service providers), the company will provide organizations and regular Netizens with essentially prefabricated Web sites that can made secure by firewalls and rented on a temporary basis starting later this quarter.
As in corporate intranets, groups of users will be able set up the sites to access and share databases, as well as conduct group scheduling and threaded discussions via a standard browser. The capabilities that employees of Fortune 500 companies already use in Lotus Notes, other groupware applications, and on corporate intranets will available as temporary "rentals."
Brian Bell, a Lotus vice president in charge of the company's Internet business, said the company wants to reach out to small and medium-sized business people and consumers as the Web moves rapidly from static pages to more interactive transactions.
Designed to work with the Notes client as well as with browsers, Bell said he expects the service "will bring a whole new class of users to Notes."
ISPs will be the landlords, outsourcing the time-consuming and technical job of creating and maintaining Web sites. Many of the details, like how the tools will be deployed and how much the service will cost, are still undetermined.
Still, Netcom, a nationwide ISP, will roll out the first service in a market trial set for December. Lotus said it is also talking to several telecommunications companies worldwide, including US West, British Telecom, IBM's Global Network, and Compuserve.
The move amounts to a preemptive strike on the potentially lucrative mass market for collaboration on the Internet. It comes as the market grows crowded with Web-based groupware start-ups and established software developers like Netscape, Microsoft, and Digital, which are seeking to cash in on the market shift beyond large enterprises toward transaction-based tools.
Today, Netscape made a move on this market announcing the next generation of SuiteSpot, while Digital's AltaVista service recently launched its ForumForum "virtual office tower," where users can temporarily collaborate in it's online "office suites."
Domino, which is the Internet component to Notes and uses the same server, is still in beta testing. It will be shipped with 4.5 version of Notes when the groupware product completes its beta run in the fourth quarter.
Lotus is also beta testing Domino.Action, a tool that does the technical work involved in setting up a Web site. Lotus developers, with some help from Netcom, are adapting the tool to the ISP hosting scenario so that ISPs will be able to send up a multitude of Web sites and then manage and track usage for billing. Another new application, Domino.Collaboration, will offer the core discussion, file library, calendaring and task management applications, the company said.
Bell said Lotus's 16,000 business partners worldwide will also benefit from opportunities to tailor thousands of Notes and Domino applications to the ISP environment. Lotus has also invited its partners to customize the Web site creation tools for smaller ISPs, an arrangement Lotus hopes will make the service widely available worldwide.
He added that individuals might use the site to organize a class reunion or a wedding. Eric Brown, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, offered another example. He said he would like to set one up for his son's little league team.
Brown said the move will help Lotus create a prominent position and win customers, revenues, and exposure in the emerging market for outsourcing of Web services.
"Everyone is looking to reach a much broader audience of users right now," Brown said. "They get to leverage three existing technologies in one swing."
The concept of groupware has been influenced by the industry trend toward open standards and interoperability. "The vision is that like the telephone, everyone will have one," he added.
"Outsourcing is going to be a wild business" as more small companies that comprise the bulk of the U.S. businesses take advantage of the Internet for a wide range of activities from private intranet applications and public advertising to customer service, predicted Brown.