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

Paper Report

Title: Experiences in an Exploratory Distributed Organization
Authors: Abel, M.
Citation: Galegher, J., Kraut, R., and Edigo, C. (Eds.) (1990). Intellectual Teamwork: Social and Technological Foundations of Cooperative Work. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 489-510
Reprinted in: Baecker, R.M. Readings in Groupware and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, San Francisco, 1993, pp. 792-802.

This paper describes an effort by the System Concepts Lab (SCL) at Xerox PARC to develop technology for supporting distributed organizations. An actual geographically distributed organization was created by establishing a second SCL in Portland, Oregon.

To simulate proximity, a shared cross-site audio/video space was developed. However, the audio and video connections were of limited quality to control transmission costs: video was compressed and audio was half duplex. Further, these were not synchronized. The video network was later expanded to include many locations at both SCL sites.

People at both sites could function as a single-site organization. However, information flow between sites was not as good as within a site. Required cues were often lost or altered in cross-site communication because of the quality of the audio and video channels. This resulted in confusion and awkwardness when social protocols were not yet established. Relationships were difficult to initiate, but when people at both sites had existing relationships, they could work together. The privacy issue was addressed by adding two features: the "Big Brother Detector", and "peek". A "virtual door" that simulated one's desired level of privacy was also considered.

System users found that the quality of the audio and video channels were distracting and limiting although they eventually adapted to these limitations. Experience with the system showed that audio was more important to videoconferencing than video.

Areas of future work include:

Report prepared by: Dion Goh            Email: diong@cs.tamu.edu
Discussion date: 4/2/97            Report date: 5/2/97