4.8 Technologies and the tacit dimension continued
4.8.1 Capturing meetings
Internet meetings and broadcasts can be easily recorded and replayed because everything is mediated digitally: the text of emails, the audio stream and the slides used. However, face-to-face meetings are by far still the most common way to present and discuss issues in organisations, and the richness of personal presence makes them unlikely to disappear. How can face-to-face meetings be ‘captured’? Traditional written minutes provide a rough summary of points discussed, but provide only the rapporteur's understanding and do not capture the context in which someone said something, or the gestures and expression which accompanied it.
Unobtrusively capturing and then browsing records of what happens in face-to-face meetings (in real or video space) is a significant challenge. Obviously, we can simply set up an audio tape recorder and record everything that is said, or a video camera and also capture gestures and movement. However, viewing two hours of video to revisit a discussion is prohibitively time-consuming.
Experimental tools are being developed which create a structured, digital record of a meeting. As these mature, users will be able to browse these records along a timeline, via markers that meeting participants have added to flag different kinds of events as they occur (for example, ‘relevant to System X’). With new electronic whiteboards, participants have available to them an infinitely large whiteboard (any number of screens can be saved) and the familiar pen input device. (SMART Board (www.cc.gatech.edu/ fce/ eclass) is an example of a research system that also captures activity surrounding e-whiteboard work.) Advanced systems enable activity associated with whiteboard entries to be captured via digital audio and video records. It is possible to play back what was being said when a particular note or drawing was edited, or search for a particular utterance and see what was happening on the whiteboard at the time (Moran et al., 1997; Abowd et al., 1998).) is an example of an e-whiteboard product. eClass (
This section has been focusing on technologies for linking people to people. A widely cited article on groupware failures by Grudin (1994b) analyses a number of key differences between designing single- and multi-user systems. Grudin's empirical analyses of failures in a variety of groupware applications led to the identification of eight challenges for groupware design.
Disparity in work and benefit: groupware often requires additional work from people who do not perceive a direct benefit from using the system.
Critical mass problem: some group applications really only work when a ‘critical mass’ of people use them.
Disruption of social processes: group applications may break existing social rules and roles within an organisation or institution.
Exception handling: group interaction is very complicated and a lot of repair and improvisation may happen; applications often fail to accommodate this.
Unobtrusive accessibility: groupware introduces important, but infrequently used, features (for example, privacy settings) which must always remain accessible to users without distracting them from their real work.
Difficulty of evaluation: because of the number of people involved, and the cultural embedding of the interaction, it is very hard to evaluate collaborative systems properly and learn from experience.
Failure of designers’ intuition: intuitions about multi-user applications are especially poor in product development environments, resulting in bad management decisions and design errors.
The adoption process: group systems need to be introduced into workplaces much more carefully than single-user systems.