Ad hoc collaboration

While talking to Jaime Teevan during my recent visit to Microsoft Research, I realized that there is a need for investigating ad hoc collaboration much like the way we do “regular” collaboration. See, with the usual collaborative projects, there is some kind of setup process; the collaborators identify the need to work together, they recognize roles and responsibilities, and set rules and guidelines for working together. At least this is what happens quite often. But then there are situations where things are not that thought out.

As Jaime and I discussed, imagine being at a conference in a new town, and at the end of the day having a need to find a place for dinner. Do we actively seek out others who may also be looking for restaurant suggestions? Sometimes yes, but what if someone (or some system) could connect us in an ad hoc fashion for creating an impromptu collaboration? The problem is already identified, the solution is understood, and there is most likely intention to be in a group like this. In other words, we don’t have to explicitly set the rules of engagement; they are already defined or understood via social norms. We are ready to collaborate!

Another example that I thought could be study sessions for students. We often find students gathering in places where they work on their homework problems in the same space such as a library or some other common space. They may not necessarily be thinking about working with others, but given that they are in the same space at the same time, one could give them a “nudge” to see if they would like to collaborate. Once again, the problem and potential solution are already there, and all that is needed is intention.

One way to look at these scenarios is through Fisher’s notion of information grounds. People being in the same space at the same time for some reason (conference, working on homework, etc.) could start interacting with each other – seeking and sharing information.

I believe mobile devices have a large role to play in facilitating such impromptu interactions and creating ad hoc collaborations.

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