Awareness and coordination in shared workspaces

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Citation: Paul Dourish, Victoria Bellotti (1992) Awareness and coordination in shared workspaces. CSCW '92: Proceedings of the 1992 ACM conference on Computer-supported cooperative work (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1145/143457.143468
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1145/143457.143468
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1145/143457.143468
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Awareness and coordination in shared workspaces
Tagged: Computer Science (RSS) CSCW (RSS), awareness (RSS), writing (RSS)


Paul Dourish and Victoria Bellotti argue that awareness is key aspects of successful cooperation work and it one is that handled poorly by many CSCW applications. The authors argue that while awareness is supported, it tends to be supported by active methods and they suggest a series of passive methods that may be more useful.

The authors suggest that awareness is important not just about the content of individual contributions but on the character and nature of those contributions. They argue that awareness information is also necessary to coordinate work but that this awareness may be generated either actively or passively. Most CSCW systems, the authors argue, ask that the users actively make other users aware of their activities. They cite several CSCW collaborative editing systems including Ellis et al.'s GROVE systems, Quilt, and Prep, use explicit annotations and workflow-based roles to help make users aware of the nature of users contributions. They call these informational and role-restrictive modes of awareness. They argue these methods depend on assumption that such cognitively heavy and limit involvement in ways that are costly to collaboration.

A more powerful mode, they suggest, involves means of passively collecting and distributing information about others work. They call their model shared feedback (See Gutin and Greenberg's concept of "feedthrough" in Design for individuals, design for groups: Trade offs between power and workspace awareness) that essentially involves making changes in a users space visible in a global shared workspace.

The authors present their own editor called ShrEdit which they present as a case study and which locks windows at the level of a text selection. They present a user study and suggest that the lack of workflow and process constraints allowed users to vary their work and roles that led to powerful and successful use of the tool. Building on this, they suggest that, "there is clearly much to be learnt about the way people collaborate before we can presume to preordain how that collaboration should be structured" (pg 112).

Dourish and Bellotti argue that the shared feedback concept is useful not just for synchronous editors for also for "semi-synchronous" systems which support both synchronous and asynchronous work modes and suggest that shared feedback can presented as a form of history that treats the timing differences as "two facets of a single view of awareness information."

They argue that shared feedback offers a viable "third way" from direct messaging and role and activity constraints that (a) reduces the costs to producers by reducing the need to send explicit messages and (b) also allows users to extract awareness information when its useful to them instead of forcing them to receive all of it.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Dourish and Bellotti's article is the seminal citation in the CSCW literature on awareness. Awareness, more generally, has become a major stream of work in CSCW. The paper has been cited more than 1700 times in the 18 years since it's initial publication. The methods and suggestions for managing awareness have certainly been influential but is the major suggestion that CSCW developers should consider and take into account awareness, and that they should do so passively, that has driven most citations to the work.

Although modern developments allow for a more sophisticated interface distributed over a longer distance, some of the design questions raised in this experiment remain: how to provide the right level of mutual awareness, source attribution, and collision protection to best support cooperative production work.