CPSC 689/602--Spring 1997
Computer-Supported Cooperative Work

Paper Report

Title: CSCW: Four Characters in Search of a Context
Authors: Liam J. Bannon and Kjeld Schmidt
Citation: L.J. Bannon and K. Schmidt. CSCW: Four Characters in Search of a Context. In J.M. Bowers and S.D., editors, Studies in Computer Supported Cooperative Work, North-Holland, 1991. Elsevier Science Publishers B.V.
Reprinted in: Readings in Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: Assisting Human-Human Collaboration by Ronald M. Baecker on pp. 50-56

The primary concern of this paper was defining what the area of CSCW (Computer-Supported Cooperative Work) shoule be considered to contain.

The authors identified two main types of CSCW researchers. One group they characterized as being solely concerned with the production of new widgets to support groupware creation. They seemed to imply that this group did not belong in CSCW because they usually do not test the applications created on anyone but themselves. They also do not study what the authors consider some of the core issues of CSCW.

The other group on researchers they identified are those who study the social issues involved in group work. The authors seemed to think these are the people who belong in CSCW, even though they imply that not all of them are studying the right issues.

The authors then go on to enumerate and go over what they considered the three core issues in CSCW. The are the following:

Two interesting points are raised in this paper. One is the question of how much of the knowledge gained from studying single-user interface design is applicable to multi-user interface design and how much of it is really a hinderance. Since it is usually assumed that most of the lessons learned about single-user interface design are applicable, this is an interesting issue.

The second interesting point they bring up concerns the effect of adding a piece of groupware to a work enviroment. Since it is well known that adding technology to a work environment changes it, and the work environment was studied before the groupware was added, a challenge is faced by designers of groupware to try and anticipate the changes that their application will cause. The authors characterize this as trying to "write in water". It presents an interesting problem because the study of the work environment is used to design the application, but the introduction of the application could cause the work environment to change in such a way as to make the application less useful than intended.

Overall, I think the two points above are the more useful part to the article, as in the end I don't think that the authors really reach a clear deffinition of what CSCW should concern itself with.

Report prepared by: Tom McCollum, Email: tommc@cs.tamu.edu
Discussion date: 1/22/97            Report date: 1/24/97