Groupware: Some issues and experiences

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Citation: Clarence A. Ellis, Simon J. Gibbs, Gail Rein (1991) Groupware: Some issues and experiences. Communications of the ACM (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1145/99977.99987
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1145/99977.99987
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1145/99977.99987
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Groupware: Some issues and experiences
Tagged: Computer Science (RSS) CSCW (RSS), Groupware (RSS)


Published in Communications of the ACM, Ellis, Gibbs, and Rein is framed as a broader introduction to the concept of groupware in particular to a broader computer science article and provides the first real public presentation of the emerging field.

The authors define groupware as:

The class of applications, for small groups and organizations, arising from the merging of computers and large information bases and communications technology. These applications may or may not specifically support cooperation.

And later (bearing an shocking similar text to the definition of coordination theory offered the year before by Malone and Crowston (1990)) as:

Computer-based systems that support groups engaged in a common task (or goal) and that provide an interface to a shared environment.

The authors define a groupware spectrum where email might be low and where an e-classroom might be high. They also provide a taxonomy that includes message systems, multiuser editors, group decision support system and electronic meeting rooms, computer conferencing, intelligent agents and coordination systems and which provide a way to offer a very broad review of the relevant literatures that the authors want to include in groupware.

The authors also describe a set of "perspectives" which they argue are useful to understanding design issues facing groupware. These include, distributed systems, communication studies, human-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, and social theory.

Much of the rest of the paper is an in-depth discussion of GROVE that departs in a number of ways from the much broader introduction, a real-time multi-user text editor designed by the authors. Using this example as framing, the authors discuss the benefits of drawbacks of distributed systems that include: increased information access, parallel work within a group, difficult discussions, increased difficulty with group focus, lowered social interaction, confusion, chaos, and a lack of focus, low numbers of "collisions" in real work environments (something that also seems to the case with projects like Wikipedia), efficiency through group work, prevention of information loss and a tangible group product, and interaction that makes learning a natural aspect of use of the tool.

The remaining third of the paper is divided into dozens of sub-sections (more no longer than a single paragraph). In particular, the paper describes a very detailed description of design issues facing groupware that include problems with group interfaces, issues with group processes, and designing for concurrency issues. In each area, the authors describe up to a dozen issues and potential solutions.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

As the first real public presentation in CACM, the article has proved to be influential and been cited 2,400 times and has become a core CSCW and groupware citation.

Especially in the design section, the authors describe dozens of potential methods and areas for research -- many of them entirely or largely untested. As a result, the paper provides a soild launching spot for perhaps dozens of streams of future research into groupware.

The success of the explicit attempt to define groupware as distinct from CSCW is somewhat less clear. Although there is a separate conference (SIG GROUP), it's overlap with the CSCW conference is very clear and it is often treated as a similar venue (if somewhat less selective or prestigous) for many researchers in the broader CSCW field.