Monday, November 08, 2004

At CSCW 2004

I'm in Chicago this week, attending the ACM's Computer Supported Cooperative Work conference. So far, it's been pretty interesting. I seem to be a rare specimen here: a non-academic who doesn't work for an IT company's research group. Here's a quick review of what I've heard so far:

Mitch Kapor opened the conference with a presentation on The Open Source Society. There wasn't a ton of new stuff in here for me, but it was still interesting listening to Mitch talk. His presentation was all black text on a white background, except for pictures of Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds. Amazingly, more folks recognized Stallman than Torvalds. Wow.

Content-wise, the key point for me is that Open Source is a meritocracy of coding, but doesn't really value the knowledge of the particular domain for which one may be coding. IOW, from a corporate perspective, one of the worst aspects of IT. Another gem: more folks on blogs increases noise, but more folks on Wikipedia improves discourse. This is due to the strength of the Wikipedia community and its social norms.

Next, I attended the "Collaboration Using Large Displays" session. This was a great session, even though this is an area that we really don't do anything with from a corporate perspective. A group from NASA presented the MERboard, which senior scientists working used to help determine the instructions to be sent to the Mars rovers in the daily batch. Key stat: 25% of the documents had multiple owners, and those documents averaged 5.7 owners. Because new versions were created on each save, over time, users started trusting the versioning rather than using "save as."

"Augmenting the Social Space of an Academic Conference" discussed the use of RFID tags at the Ubiquitous Computing conference to identify speakers and share user-selected personal information near the coffee pot. Very interesting stuff, especially around how they missed their goal of having the technology mesh with existing practices. You can find more info here.

Another group put a pair of large displays into a high school common area. Interestingly, the seeding activities they planted never got used, but they system was heavily used, and in manners the researches never anticipated. Again, the group had well developed social protocols, and applied them to the new technology.

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