Groupware software can be categorized by whether it requires users to be using the software at the same time. When users need to use it simultaneously, it is called synchronous. If users can use it at different times, it is called asynchronous. Both types offer applications for business and personal use ranging from email to games.
Email is an early groupware application. This application is asynchronous because users can send and receive emails at different times. Email saves a record of the communication, making it useful for documenting discussions and decisions. Mailing lists are an expansion of email designed for communicating with groups.
Internet forums, which frequently use open source groupware, are another asynchronous application. Users visit the forum at different times and can read and post messages. Forums also preserve postings, although many forums allow users and administrators to delete or edit posts.
Many organizations implement collaborative software where documents move asynchronously from user to user, with each user contributing in some way. For example, a potential borrower may fill out a loan application online and submit it. A loan company employee reviews the application and adds information. The loan application may then be routed to a higher level employee for approval. Upon approval, the application moves to another employee to complete processing.
Calendars are a common example of asynchronous groupware. Users add events to their calendars at their convenience. That information can be made available to other users even when the original user’s calendar is closed.
In synchronous groupware software, users must be in the application at the same time to communicate. These software applications frequently serve people who are in different locations. Chat systems are synchronous groupware applications that may make use of text or video. Text chats have the advantage of an easy search and review of content. Video more closely resembles face-to-face interaction, and can allow users to read each others’ facial expressions and tone of voice.
Another type of synchronous groupware, meeting software, is designed to facilitate meetings of groups who are in different locations. This type of software might use video conferencing, computer screen sharing, or a combination of both technologies. Companies may set up install video technology in meeting rooms to accommodate this type of groupware.
Electronic whiteboards can be used for synchronous online conferencing. Users in different locations can write on the white board and see what other users have written. These groupware software systems usually save a record of the white board.
Groupware also has a place outside of the business arena. Certain types of multi-user games are synchronous groupware software. Players in different locations sign on to the game and play against others in real time.