ERCIM News No.21 - April 1995 - GMD

DOLPHIN - Hypermedia-based Support for Group Meetings

by Norbert A. Streitz and Jörg M. Haake

DOLPHIN is a cooperative hypermedia system which provides a range of flexible structures that can be used by each group member in an electronic meeting room simultaneously at a workstation mounted into the table and at an interactive public electronic whiteboard using a cordless pen. DOLPHIN's collaboration functionality provides shared workspaces between all group members with an additional distinction between private and public workspaces. We propose that the use of hypermedia structures in group problem solving is beneficial because it provides multiple ways and parallel views of a problem representations.

The widespread use of text editors, graphics and desktop publishing tools, electronic mail, spreadsheet applications, etc. demonstrates the extensive penetration of computer-based support in a wide of range of work activities in many organizations. In contrast, one can observe only relatively few examples of groups using computer support in face-to-face meetings. Here, traditional whiteboards, flip charts, and overhead projectors are still the dominant devices provided and used. At GMD-Institute for Integrated Publication and Information Systems, the DOLPHIN project was launched in order to address and meet the requiremens of computer-based collaboration environments focusing on meeting rooms. The goal is to provide task-oriented functionality via a user-oriented interface which allows groups to maintain their traditional group dynamics to a large degree while at the same using value adding tools in order to achieve the objectives of group meetings. Although our efforts focuses on software development, we place a strong emphasis on integrating innovative hardware devices.

The design of the DOLPHIN system is grounded in a conceptual framework which tries to bring together the research areas of CSCW and hypermedia. From a CSCW perspective, we currently focus on face-to-face meetings and their equivalents facilitated by telecooperation techniques resulting in distributed "virtual meetings". Observing the central role of public displays in face-to-face meetings, we investigate what kind of added value could be provided by using an interactive whiteboard. In our case, we use Xerox LiveBoards as the hardware basis. It provides a large surface realized by the projection of a computer generated display and a cordless electronic pen for interaction. Another line of research for computer support in meetings focuses on providing a computer to every participant in the room. Using a common application software, each participant can actively enter, edit, and use information while sitting around the meeting room table. Our approach is based on recognizing that a combination of these two scenarios is needed, i.e. an interactive public display and computers for each participant. As group activities are rather dynamic than static, their support requires a high degree of flexibility. Flexibility can be provided in many ways. It is our view that hypermedia systems are able to provide this flexibility and serve as an ideal basis for building the next generation of cooperative information systems.

From a hypermedia perspective, this translates into investigating which class of hypermedia structures should be provided for supporting group work. A prominent aspect is the modularity and inherent annotation capability of hypermedia structures. It allows for flexible decomposition, restructuring, and reuse of components in a dynamic fashion. Decomposition can be used for domain structuring as well as for structuring the division of labour in the group. Another aspect of flexibility refers to the degree to which a system is able to provide a wide range of structures in accordance with the requirements of the tasks, their coexistence and means for transformation. Combining these requirements, we provide a basic node-link hypermedia model for structure representation. In addition to and coexistent with, we support more informal ways of communication by "free form" scribbling, drawing, gesturing, etc. as is the case on (electronic) whiteboards. The figure shows the coexistence of different types of structures in DOLPHIN. Since DOLPHIN is a cooperative hypermedia system, this range of flexible structures can be used by each group member simultaneously at the workstation and at the public electronic whiteboard. DOLPHIN's collaboration functionality provides shared workspaces between all group members with an additional disctinction between private and public workspaces.

Different structures and workspaces in DOLPHIN

During a meeting, different activities have to be supported, e.g., brainstorming, discussion, decision making, presentations, etc. Some of them require documents to be produced in the pre-meeting phase (such as agendas, topics, or issue lists), then to be processed during the meeting (revised agendas, minutes of prior meetings, annotated documents, lists of ideas). Quite often, the documents are further processed after the meeting and might serve as a basis for follow up meetings. It is this lifecycle of group collaboration which has to be supported by paying attention to the smooth transition between the different phases. Therefore, we integrated the meeting support system DOLPHIN with the workstation-based cooperative hypermedia authoring system SEPIA. This allows the reuse of a range of documents prepared in a workstation-based environment before the meeting as well as postprocessing of documents resulting from the collaboration in the meeting. In addition, using the infrastructure currently developed in the project "virtual Meetings based on ATM" enables remote groups and distributed individual participants to join the meeting and to communicate with the local group.

Please contact:
Norbert Streitz - GMD
Tel: +49 61 51 869 919
E-mail: streitz@darmstadt.gmd.de
Jörg M. Haake - GMD
Tel: +49 6151 869 918
E-mail: haake@darmstadt.gmd.de

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