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

Paper Report

Title: Power, Ease of Use and Cooperative Work in a Practical Multimedia Message System
Authors: Nathaniel S. Borenstein and Chris A. Thyberg
Citation: Reprinted from International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, pp. 229-259, August 1990
Reprinted in: Baecker, R.M., Readings in Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work 1993, pp. 485-500

This paper talks about a Messages Program which forms the high end interface to the Andrew Message System. This system is a multimedia mail and bulletin board reading program that novices can use without much difficulty. Also, the Andrew Advisor System is discussed. This is highly evolved and sophisticated system that uses the AMS to solve problems of distributed support for a very diverse user community in a heterogeneous computing environment.

The assumptions involved in the development of the system were stated. The important one being the assumption that there is no trade-off between power, usability and complexity. The authors' emphasis on providing mechanisms for transition from a novice us er to an expert and their confidence in the growth and evolution of systems is also worth noting.

The Andrew Message System is a large scale mail and bulletin board system that transparently supports text and multimedia messages. The system components include a Messages Windows, Multimedia features for integration, Active Message Features for message identification, Flames Message Filtering Language for message classification. Optional features include the facility for creation of private bulletin boards and various other customization options. These satisfy the aim of the designer in providing a syst em that is undeniably easy for a novice to use and at the same time satisfies the desire of an expert for extended functionality.

Cooperative Work is achieved by the Andrew Advisor System. The development is an example of the confidence the designers had in the evolution process. Initially there was one person who was assigned the job of reading the in-coming mail, gathering informa tion about it and replying to the sender. When the load increased, more people were added to this process but this led to problems in division of labor. The next step was development of a method to classify mails based on its subject line. Due to misclass ifications, messages were later classified only according to the day of receipt. The problem with this method was work related to a mail sent on one day carrying over to the next day. Finally, the current version supports primary classification by the dat e of receipt and then upward filtering as necessary through human actions, allowing the simplest questions to be responded by the least expert advisors.

The future developments on this system suggested by the authors include efficient routing of messages based on claim checks and social filtering, generating a database for tracking information about all the traffic through the system and creating a hy[ert ext document of commonly asked documents and expert answers.

Report prepared by: Thottikalai Rajavelu Email: rajavelu@cs.tamu.edu
Discussion date: February 28, 1997            Report date: March 01, 1997