S U M M A R Y
"Usability First" site of Diamond Bullet Design
GROUPWARE by Tom Brinck (1998)
Groupware is technology designed to facilitate the work of groups.
This technology may be used to communicate, cooperate, solve problems,
compete or negociate. The term refers to technologies relying on modern
computer networks at most such as email, newsgroups, videophones or chat.
We recognize two categories:
- synchronous or real-time and asynchronous
depending on whether or not the users work together at the same TIME.
- colocated or face-to-face and non-colocated or distance
depending on whether the users work together at the same PLACE or not.
CSCW (Computer-Supported Cooperative Work) refers to the field of
study which examines the design, adoption and use of groupware.
Groupware design differs from traditional user interface because it
involves understanding groups and how people behave in them and also,
understanding of networking technology and how it affects the user.
So, things like system responsiveness and reliability, homogeneity of users,
and ease-of-use are things to be considered.
What makes groupware so significant over single-user systems is that
it facilitates communication, makes it possible, reduces costs and time,
brings together multiple perspectives, facilitates group problem-solving
and so many more.
Groupware is significantly more difficult to get right than traditional
software. In order to succeed, it has to be adopted by most or whole the
target group. That's why usability and design issues have to be studied
2. Typical Applications
So, the different types of groupware applications that exist (per category)
- Asynchronous Groupware
- Email: being the most common groupware, nowdays it includes
features such as forwarding messages, creation of mailing lists,
file attachment, automating sorting and routing.
- Newsgroups and mailing lists: similar to email systems,
but intend for messages among many people. The difference between
newsgroups and mailing lists is that the former show messages on demand
while the latter sends the messages immediately since they become
- Workflow systems: they route documents through organizations,
like for example, the expense report in an organization. May provide
features such as routing, development of forms and support for
differing roles and privileges.
- Hypertext: it is a system for linking text documents to
each other, with the Web being an obvious example. Special features
are the multiple people authoring and linking by other people apart
from the original author (the latter is not found on the web).
- Group calendars:Allow scheduling, project management and
coordination among multiple people. Typical features are to detect
when schedules conflict or arrange a meeting that suits for everyone.
Concerns are privacy, completeness and accuracy.
- Collaborative writing systems: they can provide both
synchronous and asynchronous support. For instance, word processors,
where asynchronous support is to show authorship, track changes and
allow to make annotations and synchronous support means to allow
users watch changes in real-time and provide additional communication
channels like videophones and chat.
- Synchronous Groupware
- Shared whiteboards: allow many users to view and draw
on a shared drawing surface working for example on a visual problem.
Useful for collaborative graphic design, publishing or engineering
- Video communications: allow two-way or multi-way calling
with live video. Video is useful when visual information is discussed,
otherwise it doesn't give any extra benefit from a normal telephone.
- Chat systems: permits multiple people in real-time to write
messages in a public space, usually in a typewritten text. The most
interesting in the text version of chat is that we can track the
conversation, and have backward reference to it anytime.
- Decision support systems: they are designed to facilitate
groups in decision-making by providing tools for brainstorming,
critising ideas or voting. Features are the equal participation and
- Multi-player games: being common in arcades, are becoming
common on the internet. They might not be "cooperative", but players
do cooperate following the rules of the game.
3. Groupware Designing Issues
The method used for obtaining a design for groupware system has a huge impact
on the final result. So, the issues that arise are:
- Groupware Design Process: Eventhough it is difficult,
it has to be conducted user studies on system prototypes such as interviews,
surveys, analusis of artifacts etc. But the object will be always to
identify the user's goals and tasks. Main concerns have to be on one hand
not to threaten the users or show favoritism and on the the other hand,
to find at which degree the findings can be generalized for other
- Adoption and acceptance: It is crucial for a groupware in order
to be successful to be accepted by the majority of the users. Most common
reasons for failing are the interoperability and the lack of appropriate
- Avoid abuse: One example is the spamming with email that tends
to take forms of a groupware(!). Some others refer to violations of
social protocol, sabotaging group work, abuse of anonymity or violation
of privacy. A solution could be to set limits to the system.
- Socially vs. Technologically-Determined Structure:
Technologocally-determined structure is when the system determines
exactly how the conversation is structured whereas socially-mediated
communication is the opposite where the user decides about the
communication. The compromise is the design of a flexible system
that will allow both. Thus, the communication will be
technologically-facilitated but not technologically-enforced.
- Customization and Grounding: to be able to have customized views
established on a common ground. One idea is to show a summary view of the
other user. Focus should be taken to the consistency of the data.
- Session control: (Session is the situation where a group is
in process of a conversation) Every session has to be controlled in
all kinds of ways, from setting limits to prevent abuse up to providing
ways to facilitate the communication.
- Floor Control: Once a user has joined a session it has to be
decided the kind of access (for example whether simultaneous or not or
- Privacy: Privacy has to be ensured (even against aggressive
attempts) mostly by the possibility of the anonymity. One example privacy
policy is the principle of reciprocity: if a user wants information
about another user, he has to provide the equivalent information about
- Awareness: It can be in many forms. In videoconferencing, by
a wide-angle camera lens, in email with a signature file and the date
and time data. This can be at odds with privacy concerns, but again,
if we give the control to the users it can be arranged.