Criteria: (i) Critical mass and (ii) Awareness.

Exemplar: Lotus Notes

Steve is a Research Scientist at Lotus Development Corporation.

Critical mass means having enough users of the product/prototype, furthermore these must be people the user wants to talk to, and collaborate with. The importance of critical mass can be illustrated by a number of examples of both asynchronous and synchronous groupware: a Lotus Notes discussion database can fail as a forum for exchanging ideas because there is an insufficiently large number of contributors so that discussions and topics rapidly become stale. Research prototypes we have built have also suffered from lack of critical mass: there is little benefit to having desktop videoconferencing, or lightweight electronic paging technology if your recipient lacks the hardware and software to communicate using these. This makes it difficult to test the utility of these more advanced features and systems. The solution is not a technical one: it requires corporate selling of the product individual sales are unlikely to be successful until there is a large enough user pool.

Awareness is being informed about when others are active, or when critical events occur in a shared application. For asynchronous shared applications such as Notes, users need to be notified of such changes without necessarily having to open the application and inspect its contents for changes. Again Notes discussion databases have been unsuccessful because users are uncertain when and whether their contributions have been seen and responded to by others. Users may contribute to a discussion, but in the absence of notification it may be some time before others become aware of the change. Furthermore, the absence of notification means that such databases cannot be used for urgent or time critical interactions. Solutions discussed include polling and specialised server processes.

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