I have to admit, until a recent vendor briefing, I was unfamiliar with the term "communities of practice." But Eric Sauve, co-founder and CEO of Tomoye, was kind enough to enlighten me on the topic. Tomoye, (www.tomoye.com) whose name means revolution in the universe, was built around the concept of communities of practice, and last week released the next version of its collaboration offering, Ecco 2.0, which ties its collaboration offering to the Microsoft SharePoint platform.

According to Sauve, the term communities of practice essentially means thematically driven collaboration. "They are peers that share common job title or focus, brought together across the enterprise to work together to improve their capacity in those jobs," he said. "They also extend typically into various different stakeholder groups--partners, supply chain, customers--which are brought into an internal company conversation." In the context of the Ecco product, the communities of practice concept encompasses four generic capabilities:

• Questions and answers, which offer peer advice, similar to how Yahoo! Answers does.

• Experts and networking in a group context, which captures people's interaction with each other and reveals the most helpful, relevant folks in a group context.

• Community content, which includes content that you normally associate with rich communication, such as videos, tags, social bookmarking, wikis, and blogs, as well as the community around that content.

• Leader and tech support, which offers support capabilities around metrics, security, and so forth.

"So essentially, Ecco is a user-driven, social type of content and collaboration technology," says Sauve. "And we deploy the technology with a best-practice process model to help organizations make their communities the most productive and successful." And now, with the newest version, Ecco is Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007-ready, allowing organizations to integrate the communities of practice technologies with SharePoint's rich document management and collaboration tools. This means you can add SharePoint documents to Ecco just as you would from your local hard drive; publish from a team site to an Ecco community for broader feedback or to take advantage of Ecco’s open security; and list SharePoint team sites directly from Ecco’s navigation. With both products on the same hardware, using Windows authentication, you can seamlessly go back and forth between the two products. Use them both to create a rich and full collaboration infrastructure.