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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