Coagmento saves the day!

Practice what you preach. And I do! Lori and I have been using Coagmento for our wedding planning and it’s already coming handy. The other day we were somewhere in the western NC and it occurred to us that Lori had looked up some place around there as possible venues for our wedding. Neither of us remembered what they were. I had my iPhone with me and we could search again, but Lori couldn’t even remember what searches she had done to find those places.

Enter Coagmento! I went to Coagmento site on my iPhone, logged in and there – all the searches that Lori had done and the websites she had seen or bookmarked! We could instantly reuse those websites and searches. Thus, Coagmento helped us do multi-session collaborative exploration.

Coagmento for wedding

These days I’m all about taking Coagmento, my collaborative information seeking, synthesis, and sense-making system, out in the open water! Anyone who has done a large-scale user study for months knows how nice it is to get out!

So my recent adventure with this “field trip” is using Coagmento for our wedding planning! Yes, I introduced my fiance Lori to Coagmento (she has probably heard more than enough so far anyway), and now we both are collaborating on our wedding using Coagmento. I’ll post later about how it turns out!

Asymmetric roles – good and bad

One of the appeals of collaboration is diversity of skills. People get together for a join project because none of them individually possess all the skills required to finish the project. Working like this also leads to asymmetric roles of the collaborators. For instance, in a class project researching and presenting on environmental impacts of non-recyclable electronics, one person in the group could take the role of the researcher, another one could be responsible for writing, and one more for presenting. This could turn out great for all of them since they didn’t have to worry about all the aspects of the project; they could just focus on what they were responsible for doing (hopefully a task that they were better than others).

However, each one may miss out an opportunity of learning about the other aspects that they were not strongly involved in or responsible for. Thus, for that given project, it was good how they divided up the work, but for a long run, it may not be good as far as their individual learning goes.

While designing a system that caters to such asymmetric roles in collaboration, are we not taking away individual’s opportunity for wholesome learning? Both the system designers and the collaborators/users need to understand these trade-offs.

The issue of control

I had an interesting discussion with Madhu Reddy at Penn State the other day during my visit. I was fortunate to give a talk to Madhu and his group and obtain some valuable feedback. After the talk, as Madhu and I sat down to discuss more, he brought up an interesting point about control. For my system Coagmento, the control about pretty much everything on the interface rests in the hands of each individual. For instance, an individual could decide to turn off alerts or browse in incognito mode. However, many situations require for the group members to be more transparent to each other. This may mean agreeing to some terms that may not be ideal for an individual, but are beneficial to the group. For instance, one may have to honestly show when they are online rather than hiding their status.

In short, while designing a collaborative system, we need to think about control that is divided between an individual and the team. Depending up on the situation, the system should let the users find a balance in this division.

On the road

I’m going to be on the road for the next few days visiting a couple of places and talking about collaboration – mediated by systems and controlled by users. On Monday 12th, I’ll be at Penn State University in University Park, PA, giving a talk to Madhu Reddy and his group. On Tuesday, 13th, I’ll be at University of Maryland, giving a talk at the iSchool. The topic for both the talks will be “Toward a model for Collaborative Information Seeking, Synthesis, and Sense-making: A Work in Progress.”

I’ll try to write some notes here once I’m back (and have a chance to catch up on other things!).

Taking Coagmento out-of-box

It’s been a while. In fact, it’s been quite a while as I waited for a right time to get Coagmento out of its box. For the past year and a half, I have been through many versions of Coagmento, a collaborative information seeking system. I have run many sessions of cognitive walkthroughs, where I sat down with individuals, explained them how Coagmento worked, and got their reactions. I did several design sessions (individual and group), and pilot runs. Finally, I did a large user study in the lab.

And now, it’s almost here. Almost, because the first and the second beta versions of Coagmento have been tested by a select group of people, and not really open for just anyone to try. Not yet, but we are almost there. Hopefully, within the next few days, a new version of Coagmento will roll out that will be ready for a wide-scale deployment.

The journey of Coagmento from its inception to this stage has been very interesting, and worth writing about at some point. The journey, though, continues with more updates coming real soon!