ERCIM News No.21 - April 1995


Yngve Sundblad, Professor at the Interaction and Presentation Laboratory of KTH and at the Graphics Instiute of Stockholm University and Scientific advisor at SICS, Sweden: Let ERCIM be a testbed of Computer Supported Cooperative Work

Europe is a stronghold in CSCW research, with a longer and more profound tradition of development of usability through humanistic and technical interdisciplinarity than North America and Japan. There is also a strong tradition of transnational West European cooperation in the field, manifested in several leading Esprit projects, e.g. COMIC, and the COST 14 (CoTech) initiative.

The research field CSCW, Computer Supported Cooperative Work, is strong within several ERCIM institutes as can be seen from this issue of ERCIM News. At the 6th ERCIM workshop at SICS in June 1994 on Distributed Interactive Virtual Environments, an advanced CSCW technology, 18 papers were presented, of which 9 were from ERCIM institutes.

In CSCW research and development it is crucial to bring in not only, or even mainly, technical aspects. Behavioural, social, organisational and graphic design aspects are at least as important for making computer supported applications and tools that can and will be used for human cooperation. The CSCW field is thus strongly interdisciplinary and computer scientists in the field must establish strong links with researchers in e.g. psychology, linguistics, sociology, organisational theory and media design. Several of the ERCIM institutes have such links within the organisation or with nearby universities.

Computer Supported Cooperative Work has a great potential for making it possible for individuals using computers in different parts of the world to cooperate on a working material, presented in a common work area (e.g. window), and "meet" using multiple communication media, audio, video, graphics, presentation and navigation in 3D worlds, etc. In order to make these possibilities ripen and used in real world applications much more pilot use is needed for experience and study. Such field use should of course use the best possible and widely spread computer communication technology, irrespective of where it comes from, and concentrate on the cooperation aspects of human interfaces, tools and applications.

The ERCIM community could play a leading role in making CSCW become real, and hopefully at the same time increase the cooperation, at least in quantity, and save some travel between the institutes, by using not only "asynchronous" e-mail but also tools for "synchronous" cooperation and "meetings" over the networks. Immediate tools are available in the "Internet toolbox", others, more prototypical and relying on benevolent users are developed e.g. at GMD and at SICS. Both more conventional 2D screen ("desktop") and 3D VR environments are protyped and could be used over Internet and ATM pilots.

Thus a joint effort within ERCIM to promote and develop the use of cooperation technology would be most welcome as a substantial contribution to making it a real and usable resource for future human communication. Let us start the planning soon and meet (face-to-face) at the 1995 event in the CSCW field, the Fourth European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, ECSCW'95, held in Stockholm September 10-14.

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