Richard Griffiths Lecture Notes Computer Supported Co-operative Work (cscw) and Groupware

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Richard Griffiths - Lecture Notes

Computer Supported Co-operative Work (CSCW) and Groupware 

“Computer-supported cooperative work or CSCW is computer-assisted coordinated activity carried out by groups of collaborating individuals.” (Baecker 1995, p. 141)

“Groupware is distinguished from normal software by the basic assumption it makes:  groupware makes the user aware that he is part of a group, while most other software seeks to hide and protect users from each other ...  Groupware ... is software that accentuates the multiple user environment, coordinating and orchestrating things so that users can “see” eachother, yet do not conflict with each other.”

 (Lynch 1990, p. 160, in Baecker 1995, p. 141)

Types of CSCW

Primarily for communication

Electronic mail (email)

Structured email — computer conferencing (Netnews, newsgroups, bulletin boards) messages organised by topic, and sometimes mediated by a convenor.
Teleconferencing — the use of audio and video links.

Joint problem solving

Collaborative writing or drawing.

Group decision support systems (GDSS) — the electronic meeting room.

Integrated systems

Where shared interpersonal communications spaces are integrated with shared task workspaces.


“... applications written to support the collaboration of several users.”  (Dix 1998, p. 463)

Groupware can be classified in several ways:

  • by where and when the individual participants perform the cooperative work - summarised in a time/space matrix.

  • by the function of the system — e.g., collaborative design, group authoring, meeting support, etc.

  • by the structural support function of the software

    • computer-mediated communication — where direct communication between participants is supported.

    • meeting and decision support systems — where common understandings are captured.

    • shared applications and artefacts — where the participants’ interaction with shared work object (the artefacts of work) are supported.

 (Dix 1998, pp. 466-7.  Chapter 13 uses this classification.)

The Time/Space Matrix

The Basic Matrix


Same place 

 Different place

Same time 

 Face-to-face conversation


Different time 

 Post-it note



 (Dix 1998, p.465)

A CSCW Matrix


One meeting site  
(same places) 

Multiple meeting sites  
(different places)

Synchronous communication  
(same time)

Face to Face Interactions 

  • Public computer displays 

  • Electronic meeting rooms 

  • Group decision support systems

Remote Interactions 

  • Shared view desktop conferencing systems 

  • Desktop conferencing with collaborative editors 

  • Video conferencing 

  • Media spaces

Asynchronous communication 
(different time)

Ongoing Tasks 

Communication and Coordination

  • Vanilla email 

  • Asynchronous conferencing bulletin boards 

  • Structured messaging systems 

  • Workflow management 

  • Version control 

  • Meeting schedulers 

  • Cooperative hypertext & organisational memory 


(Johansen 1988, in Baecker 1995, p. 742)


Other issues involve; group size, multiple individual sites verses multiple group sites, and the predictability of time and space component.

Asynchronous Groupware

“Asynchronous groupware supports communication and problem solving among groups of individuals who contribute at different times, and typically also are geographically dispersed.”

  (Baecker 1995, p. 743)


Electronic Mail

Organises access by name of recipient.
May be addressed to multiple receivers (broadcast email, mailing lists).
Problems with etiquette, spam, overabundance of email, difficulty locating information in huge database of conference messages..
Issues of authority, control and influence.

Computer Conferencing

Organises access by topic (conferencing systems) or time (bulletin boards).

Structured Messages

Provide users with better methods of organising, classifying, filtering, and managing messages.


In intelligent messaging systems where tasks are delegated to autonomous software entities (agents).


Messages may be used to define, embody, and manage workflow in an organisation.

Cooperative Hypertext and Organisational Memory

Integrate hypertext, groupware, and a rhetorical method.  E.g., Issue Based Information Systems (IBIS).

Synchronous Groupware

Assists a group of individuals in working together at the same time.

Desktop Conferencing Systems

Workstation based applications for collaborative work at a number of desktops.

Involve screen-sharing where a central theme is WYSIWIS (What You See Is What I See).

System infrastructure

For supporting and implementing desktop confrencing across workstations.

Electronic Meeting and Decision Rooms

Such as group decision support systems.

May involve anonymous contribution and voting.
Physical environment of the room containing the workstation may be important.

Media Spaces

Include computer-controlled audio-visual networks and virtual meeting environments to support synchronous problem solving by people in different locations.

Not only support an application in use, but give its users an awareness of who is around and how they can be reached.

BSCW Mapped onto the Matrix

BSCW (Basic Support for Cooperative Work):  A Web based product that attempts to do what its name implies.


One meeting site 

(same places)


Multiple meeting sites 

(different places)

Synchronous communication 

(same time)

The Meeting object assists in organising face-to-face meetings.

By the use of the Monitor applet (not currently installed here). 

Can be integrated with video conferencing systems (e.g., CU-SeeMe) to set up meetings. 


Asynchronous communication 

(different time)

Same as cell on right --> 

Holds all documents, etc., associated with the project in a workspace. 

Reports modifications to the workspace. 

Version control. 

Supports email. 

Bulletin board, with some support for rhetorical structure. 



Baecker, R. M., Grudin, J., Buxton, W. A. S., Greenberg, S.  1995  “Readings in Human-Computer Interaction:  Towards the Year 2000” (Second Edition)  Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc.

Dix, A., Finlay, J., Abowd, G., Beale, R.  1998  “Human-Computer Interaction” (Second Edition)  Prentice Hall.

Johansen, R.  1988  “Groupware:  Computer Support for Business Teams”  The Free Press.

Lynch, K., Snyder, J., Vogel, D.  1990  The Arizona Analyst Information System:  Supporting Collaborative Research on International Technology Trends.  In Gibbs, S., Verrijn-Stuart, A. (Eds.)  1990  “Multiuser Interfaces and Applications”  North-Holland,  pp. 159-174.

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