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Small Group Collaboration on the Internet

  • Archived 1998
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  • Archived 1998

    This project didn't really go forward after 1998. The group I was working with didn't really have a way to use it, and I have moved on to other projects.

    As of August 2001 I still have an interest in these topics. I'm especially curious about why so very many collaborative efforts have failed. The history of computer based collaboration is rich and relatively old -- there were many mainframe and mini-computer projects in the 1970s (pre-PC) for example. I suspect one can find projects earlier than that as well. The World Wide Wed could be considered a failed effort at supporting small group collaboration. As of 2001 Groove is one of the most recent commercial entries into this swamp of failure.

    I have tried about a dozen different small group collaborations. I had one that was very successful, 8 that were total failures, and 3 were mixed. I've had most luck with a combination of pesonal in-the-flesh meetings, email, phone calls, and "url-as-password" protected web sites.

    The determinants of success in my limited experience have been social rather than technological; though technologies play an enabling role. If the motivation of participants is strong enough just about any system can work. If the motivation is weak then nothing works. It's hard though to overestimate the difficulty humans have with computer-mediated collaboration; there's nothing in our evolutionary heritage to make it easy. We are not programmed to work this way.

    BTW, from 1998 to 2001 probably the world's leading thinker on these topics is Jon Udell. Read him and read the newsgroups.


    I've been involved over the years with many efforts to collaborate with small groups over the Internet, including working groups and project collaborations, class projects, academic papers, community and political efforts, etc. Typically these are groups of 10 or fewer persons who are participating in a project that is of some interest to them, but it is not a critical part of their daily work.

    I have not found any tools that I consider adequate for supporting this type of low to moderate intenstity collaboration. Anything works if motivation is high enough, such as when one's job or grade is at risk. For the typical professional, however, dealing with a large number of urgent priorities, the collaborative tools I've tried don't work very well. The notification problem (eg. how does a forum subscriber know to check the forum for new messages) is critical, as is workflow integration.

    The best I've found so far, given notification and workflow issues, has been simple email, sometimes supported by static web pages and Email Lists and web archives. The goal of this site is to flesh out this solution with specific recommendations, and to solicit ideas for better solutions. This site is based on a presentation I did in October 1997.

    The AMIA Family Practice/Primary Care Working Group's communications committee is working on this project along with me. Thus far our best solution is to cobble together email, email Lists, list archives and static web pages. We are continuing to evalue "web forum" products. I think with email integration and notification functions a web forum product could be very valuable, but thus far I've not come across one.

    If you've any ideas or solutions, click on my address, below.


    Author: John G. Faughnan.  The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. Pages are updated on an irregular schedule; suggestions/fixes are welcome but they may take weeks to months to be incorporated. I reserve copyright except where noted, if you want to repost or quote a page just ask. Anyone may freely link to anything on this site and print any page; no permission is needed for linking,  printing, or distributing printed copies.