Exemplar: The PARC Media Space
Sara is an independent consultant in the areas of user interfaces for individuals
and distributed groups.
Adaptability is a critical criterion in determining the potential success
of a groupware application. Applications that allow users to adapt the technologies
to their own needs and uses allow social behaviours to rule interactions
as appropriate and provide the opportunity for codevelopment of the technology
and the work activity. In particular, it means not building a set of procedures
and structures into the technology that dictate group behaviour. At one
point in the history of the Xerox PARC Media Space, monitors were configured
so that one could not see the display screen without also being on camera.
While this offered a good basis for ensuring reciprocity in viewing, it
also constrained the camera position. The technology had taken on the responsibility
for enforcing the rule that "If you can see me then I can see you".
In fact, the group had used the technology in many interesting and useful
ways precluded by such a ruling. Participants moved cameras to bring attention
to something they wanted to share (a view outside of a pretty day, a whiteboard
illustration of a discussion underway); participants glanced at monitors
from a variety of positions to stay aware of remote sites; participants
situated cameras for interesting office overviews.
To meet the adaptability criterion, we must allow users as much control
over the technology as possible. This is not to say that applications should
leave all decisions to users but rather to provide configurations that can
easily be changed. For example, privacy is certainly an important issue
in groupware applications. Looking at it from the adaptability point-of-view
suggests that the technologies support the users in establishing their own
modes of behaviour. Most of us would find it silly to enforce locked doors
in all workplaces despite the fact that an open office offers the possibility
of intrusion. Groupware applications should offer tools rather than rules.
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- Minimize user effort