Principia Cybernetica Web

Computer-Supported Cooperative Work

Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) is a recently developed domain that has already spawned many applications. Everybody is familiar with the support computers can provide for individual work, with applications such as word processors, databases, spreadsheets, etc. Adding network connections to personal computers or terminals makes it in principle possible to have a group of people do the same work collectively: e.g. persons sitting at different computers may each add text to a shared word processing document. This may seem not essentially different from traditional collaboration where a document goes from hand to hand, and where each adds or edits it in turn. However, networked computer systems make it possible to overcome some inherent physical, social and cognitive constraints.

Traditional collaboration is necessarily sequential: one individual can only add something after another one has finished. This even applies to real-time meetings or conversations: only one person can talk at a time. In a CSCW environment, on the other hand, people can add information in parallel. Moreover, the collaboration is not restricted to real-time or other physical constraints depending on time or space. The different people collaborating need not be present in the same location or even at the same time. The simplest way to implement this kind of asynchrous and distributed shared workspace is through annotation: different collaborators can add comments to specific parts of a collective document. This is implemented over the World-Wide Web in the Principia Cybernetica Project, thus abolishing all geographical constraints.

Moreover, CSCW makes it possible to overcome or control for a number of social constraints: in normal meetings, people who are assertive, fluent or in a position of authority will tend to dominate the discussion, while those who are shy or of a lower rank will find it very difficult to have their ideas accepted or even paid attention to, however good those ideas may be. In a CSCW environment, everyone types at his own speed or in his own style, without needing to wait until the others given him or her the occasion to speak. Moreover, through the use of nicknames or other devices the contributors can be kept anonymous so that the idea of the general manager is considered with the same unbiased attitude as the one of the junior employee. Using the public Internet as communication medium makes it even possible to maximally open up the group of collaborators, and allow virtually every person in the world to participate.

Finally, the inherent computing capabilities of CSCW tools make it possible to overcome cognitive constraints, by processing information that would be too complex to use in traditional environments. For example, different alternatives could be evaluated according to different criteria, whereby each collaborator could give his personal estimate along each of several dimensions. Statistical techniques from Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis can then be used to find that alternative that is most acceptable to the group, or to give feedback on different possibilities to reorganize the alternatives. The ease and flexibility of thus setting up and evaluating different forms of voting in principle allow strongly enhanced forms of democracy.

A quote from the announcement of "Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): An International Journal" provides more background information:

The journal arises as a timely response to the growing interest in the design, implementation and use of technical systems (including computing, information, and communications technologies) which support people working cooperatively. Equally, the journal is concerned with studies of the process of cooperative work itself - studies intended to motivate the design of new technical systems, and to develop both theory and praxis in the field. The journal will encourage contributions from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives within the social, computing and allied human and information sciences.

In general, the journal will facilitate the discussion of all issues which arise in connection with the support requirements of cooperative work. It is intended that the journal will be of interest to a wide readership through its coverage of research related to - inter alia - groupware, socio-technical system design, theoretical models of cooperative work, computer mediated communication, human-computer interaction, group decision support systems (GDSS), coordination systems, distributed systems, situated action, studies of cooperative work and practical action, organisation theory and design, the sociology of technology, explorations of innovative design strategies, management and business science perspectives, artificial intelligence and distributed AI approaches to cooperation, library and information sciences, and all manner of technical innovations devoted to the support of cooperative work including electronic meeting rooms, teleconferencing facilities, electronic mail enhancements, real-time and asynchronous technologies, desk-top conferencing, shared editors, video and multi-media systems. In addition, we welcome studies of the social, cultural, moral, legal and political implications of CSCW systems.

[...] Detailed instructions for authors and other information (such as submission via email or on disk) can be obtained [...] by electronic mail on: HUSOC [at] KAP.NL (Please mark your message CSCW).

See also: information on CSCW and groupware on the Internet, CSCW Definitions and Abbreviations

Copyright© 1994 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

F. Heylighen,

Aug 2, 1994


Project Organization

Collaborative Knowledge Development

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