Revision of the Groupware Users Interface Development Methods

Revision of the Groupware Users Interface Development Methods

Mabel del V. Sosa (Departamento de Informática, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Tecnologías, Universidad Nacional de Santiago del Estero, Argentina)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4490-8.ch051
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Complexity inherent to groupware systems implies a considerable effort in design and development because of the need of multi-discipline collaboration work and the technical difficulty involved in the task (shared data, complicated collaborative activities, task distribution, group awareness, feedthrough, etc.). A key element for usability is the groupware user interface disposed to the enhancement of the group work quality in such aspects as coordination, communication, collaboration, etc. Different fields of computer science, HCI (Human Computer Interaction), CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work), UCD (User Centered Design), and SE (Software Engineering), have contributed with the methodology, process, and tools model, which facilitates and improves different aspects of user interface development for collaborative environments. Still, the analyzed proposals do not completely cover the development process of a complete groupware system where interactive aspects are integrated with collaborative issues, not only in the interface but also in the application itself. Methodological proposals are analyzed in this chapter to detect how far they go in covering the development issues and trying to detect the strong and feeble points of every one, identifying the relevant aspects not yet covered in the fields dedicated to user interface development in this kind of system.
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The software for CSCW systems is called groupware (Ellis, Gibbs, & Rein, 1991). Groupware is defined as ‘a computing-based system, able to support groups of users implicated in common tasks or goals, which supplies an interface to a shared environment’. It is also known as collaborative system because it allows multiple users to concurrently work on the same project (Bannon & Schmidt, 1991). The term CSCW is used to define the research educational area, while groupware defines the technology of this educational area.

CSCW, as a discipline, describes how to develop groupware applications, aiming at studying, practically and in theory, how people work in cooperation, and how groupware application affects the group behavior. The purpose is to understand the way in which people interact and collaborate with each other in order to propose a technological development able to assist the communication, collaboration and group coordination process. A group is defined as a ‘complex social system which develops multiple and interdependent functions in multiple concurrent projects.’ The specific features of a group process, which contribute to the groupware application development, are versatile: they are related to the individual work patterns (skills, knowledge styles, modes, behavior restrictions), which contribute to the group work and to the human communication characteristics (way of speech to take commitments and actions); they are related to the group, including issues related to the design of the group work (environment, participant commitment, group awareness, distributed cognition) and also items related to the group dynamics (collaborative processes, group performance and behavior); and lastly, they are related to the organization including the knowledge representation areas (organization structure and role of each participant), the organization design (capacity to develop support tools for the group work, integrating specified goals) and issues related to the management (activities, persons and resources).

In order for the groupware to fulfill the goal of increasing the efficacy of the group work, three basic activities will be brought up:

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