Viewing Text-Based Group Support Systems

Viewing Text-Based Group Support Systems

Esther E. Esther E. Klein (Hofstra University, USA) and Paul J. Herskovitz (College of Staten Island, CUNY, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch634
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Abstract

With interdisciplinary approaches leading to new and enriched perspectives, we argue that an encounter between information technology (IT) and sociology will result in a heightened understanding of the problem of textual ambiguity in text-based computer-mediated communication (CMC)1 in general and in group support systems (GSS) in particular. Such approaches where IT meets sociology have already been taking place in other areas of group research (e.g., see Ahuja & Carley, 1998). “[W]ith the global and technological transformations of the workplace” (Aakhus, 2001, p. 341), as IT and the Internet gain wide acceptance throughout society as well as the global economy (e.g., see Friedman, 2000) and as CMC and computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) become commonplace, both information systems (IS) scholars and sociologists have increasingly studied the patterns of human behavior in virtual groups. This article2 is an attempt to advance that effort. Specifically, the purpose of this article is to apply the insights of Georg Simmel—an early and oft-neglected German theorist of sociology working in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—on written communication to text-based GSS, which are interactive computer-based information systems that support and structure group interaction and intellectual teamwork (see also Ackermann & Eden, 1994; Fjermestad, J., 2004; Klein, 2000; Klein & Dologite, 2000; Nunamaker, 1997; Poole & DeSanctis, 1990; Zigurs & Buckland, 1998), “promot[ing] communication, collaboration and coordination among teams of people” (Ahalt, 2000, p. 1159).
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Introduction

“[T]he word is not necessarily what it seems….” (Bialik, Revealment and Concealment, 2000, p. 17)

With interdisciplinary approaches leading to new and enriched perspectives, we argue that an encounter between information technology (IT) and sociology will result in a heightened understanding of the problem of textual ambiguity in text-based computer-mediated communication (CMC)1 in general and in group support systems (GSS) in particular. Such approaches where IT meets sociology have already been taking place in other areas of group research (e.g., see Ahuja & Carley, 1998). “[W]ith the global and technological transformations of the workplace” (Aakhus, 2001, p. 341), as IT and the Internet gain wide acceptance throughout society as well as the global economy (e.g., see Friedman, 2000) and as CMC and computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) become commonplace, both information systems (IS) scholars and sociologists have increasingly studied the patterns of human behavior in virtual groups. This article2 is an attempt to advance that effort. Specifically, the purpose of this article is to apply the insights of Georg Simmel—an early and oft-neglected German theorist of sociology working in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—on written communication to text-based GSS, which are interactive computer-based information systems that support and structure group interaction and intellectual teamwork (see also Ackermann & Eden, 1994; Fjermestad, J., 2004; Klein, 2000; Klein & Dologite, 2000; Nunamaker, 1997; Poole & DeSanctis, 1990; Zigurs & Buckland, 1998), “promot[ing] communication, collaboration and coordination among teams of people” (Ahalt, 2000, p. 1159).

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Background: Computer-Mediated Communication And Textual Ambiguity

CMC research has pointed out that, unlike face-to-face (FTF) communication, CMC is distinguished by the absence of contextual (also referred to variously as situational or emotional) cues, which contributes to miscommunication, misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and distortion of the text message (e.g., see Sproull & Kiesler, 1986). In particular, text-based CMC media generate a written message unaccompanied by nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication refers to “the exchange of information and meaning through facial expressions, gestures, and movements of the body” (Giddens & Duneier, 2000, p. 96; see also Schaefer, 2001, pp. 71-72), which are known as nonverbal cues. Nonverbal communication also includes verbal cues, or voice patterns, such as loudness, pitch, rate, and tone.

According to Easterbrook (1995, p. 6), contextual cues “are used [in FTF communication] for constant feedback and as a signalling mechanism …, indicat[ing] whether the listener is hearing, and understanding.” Text-based CMC does not convey the context and emotional nuances that are necessary for an accurate understanding of the text message. For example, by e-mail and other text-based CMC, the pitch and tone of voice, hand motions, facial expressions, and eye movements are absent, often leading to textual ambiguity, which undermines the accuracy of the message.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Group Support Systems (GSS): Interactive computer-based information systems that support and structure group interaction and facilitate group meetings.

Rich Media: A vehicle of communication having a multiplicity of nonverbal and verbal cues, which can be used to clarify and interpret the spoken message.

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): A communication system that involves or is assisted by computers. Computer-mediated communication includes group support systems, e-mail, videoconferencing, chat rooms, and instant messaging.

Lean Media: A vehicle of communication having few or no verbal cues, thereby precluding the clarification and interpretation of the spoken message.

Face-to-Face Communication: Real-time communication between two or more individuals in physical proximity to each other.

E-Collaboration: The collaboration of two or more individuals performing a specific task over a computer network. With the growth of GSS scholarship and its openness to interdisciplinary approaches, it is anticipated that future research will treat the textual ambiguity problem with the attention that it deserves and will find new approaches to place the GSS text within its context.

Nonverbal Communication: The conveying of information, usually of an emotional nature, by means of body movement, facial expressions, hand gestures, and voice patterns.

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