CSCW 2010 keynote by Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky

The first keynote at CSCW 2010 was given by Clay Shirky, the author of “Here Comes Everybody”. I really liked his presentation style. He used PowerPoint as everybody else does, but would blank out the screen from time to time and have the audience’s focus on him. Following are some of the interesting points from his talk.

There is a big difference between publishing in the past century and this present one. In the 20th century, people would ask “why publish?” and now, the question is “why not?”. This is primarily due to the significant reduction in cost for publishing. Today, almost anyone can create a blog, post a Twitter update, and update their status on social networking sites with very little cost and effort.

Motivation is highly valuable aspect to study in communities. Why does/should someone contribute/create? Clay gave an example of people using Lego blocks to create structures. Two teams were given the same blocks and tasks. None were paid for the first week. The second week, one of the teams was paid. They took longer to finish as they were trying to build some more blocks to get paid more. Interestingly, when nobody was given any compensation the third week, the team that was paid in the second week did worse than even the first week! They had lost their “motivation”. This motivation was extrinsic, as opposed to the other team that did what they did based on their intrinsic motivation. Clay gave a couple of other examples showing how intrinsic motivation can make people create and contribute significantly more than when they are extrinsically motivated.

Clay then talked about cultures. He argued that culture can take the role of coordinating people and events. Once people’s coordination behavior is changed, you can essentially change their culture. In other words, to influence people to change their culture, change their coordinating environment. This can be done by providing extrinsic motivations.

The second workshop on CIS: many ideas – some new, some old!

I attended the second workshop on collaborative information retrieval/seeking at the CSCW 2010 conference in Savannah, GA. The first one was held with JCDL 2008 conference in Pittsburgh. In fact, this is my third workshop on this topic as I also attended the collaborative information behavior workshop the past summer at GROUP 2009 conference. All of these workshops had several similar themes, with some overlapping participants (I realized that I’m the only one who has been to all of them!).

The second CIR/CIS workshop was different than the first one in the sense that we didn’t spent too much time arguing over the definitions. I think that’s a big improvement and shows the maturity of the community. We stayed focus on users, systems, models, and transitions. Some of the interesting themes that emerged as we went through several panels and discussions are as following.

  • The issue of control is really important. If a CIS system is bringing many features to the user because of their potential usefulness, it needs to do it seamlessly. People may like the system doing something “smart” for them, but this should be done with transparency. More than those benefits the system could offer, it’s important that the user trusts the system; he needs to feel in control.
  • Awareness is another core issue that kept coming up. In one of the spun off groups, we discussed what we need for a shared awareness and how to implement it. We proposed to do it (1) actively, or (2) passively. In the former case, a user pushes certain artifacts (webpages, searches, etc.) actively in the awareness space. In the latter case, the system records pretty much everything without explicit knowledge of the user. A combination of these two can help us dial up/down the amount of awareness and privacy.
  • A good way to encourage and begin collaborations is by converting social ties to collaborative ties. The social ties are light-weighted, and many already have such ties due to their involvements in social networks and online communities. We can facilitate such social agents to connect with each other in collaborations when appropriate.

Malone’s keynote address at ALISE 2010

Prof. Malone started with his definition of collective intelligence: “groups of individuals doing things collectively that seem intelligent.” He then went on describing and addressing a core research question, which is at the foundation of his Center for Collective Intelligence lab at MIT: “How can people and computers be connected so that—collectively—they act more intelligently than any individuals, groups, or computers have ever done before?”

He made a very compelling argument that the reason behind tighter communities from early days of bands to kingdoms and democracies is the advancement of communication. As communication became easier and less expensive, the power and value of connecting individuals and communities grew. The same trend of human organizations is followed in business – from small local businesses to large centralized corporations and networked organizations.

What are the motiviations for a crowd to contribute? Money, love, and glory. And this may tell why some crowd organizations fail – because the crowd did not get one of these motivations.


Cooperation or collaboration?

This is a classical question in the field of collaboration. How is collaboration different than cooperation? In the past I have presented my detailed view with models and examples to distinguish collaboration from coordination and cooperation. Of course, there are no complete agreement among the researchers and practitioners.

Recently I was talking with Dr. Gerry Stahl of Drexel and he presented a view that collaboration can only happen when the participants are able to do equal and/or similar amount of work. His example was students doing a group assignment together. That’s collaboration. I argued that the difference between cooperation and collaboration is more a function of the roles of the participants than the nature of the task. For instance, a student collecting a list of references for his advisor’s article is an act of coordination. The student doesn’t have the same stake as the advisor in the final product (the article). However, when the advisor and the student write that article together as co-authors, they are in the same/similar roles, and thus, doing collaboration. Such a collaboration may involve some parts of cooperation (see my earlier posts on this topic).

Coagmento it?

We are familiar with expressions such as “google it”. The whole service has become noun, verb, etc. And it matters. Microsoft realized it (too little, too late though) that people can’t say ‘live it’ and moved to bing. Name does matter.

There were similar thoughts for Coagmento as well, except that I decided to go the other way. Nobody is going to say ‘Coagmento it’, but that’s good. I don’t want Coagmento to be yet-another-fast-food service. Coagmento is not for getting an answer; it is for exploring, discovering, and connecting. Everyone wants fast, but we all know what fast-food does to us, and what fast (reckless) driving does. Of course, certain things need to be fast, but like most good food that is slowly and carefully cooked, good information and knowledge may also sometimes require more time than googling things.

Coagmento beta released

The first public version of Coagmento is finally out! It’s a pretty exciting and scary moment for me. I have been waiting for this for a long time (more than a year since I started working on Coagmento). I have done several iterations of Coagmento, many studies with different versions, and tried and tested it myself. So it’s great to be able to offer it to the world. At the same time, I know there are many things need to be worked out. People tend to compare everything with Google these days and that’s not a fair comparison; certainly not for systems like Coagmento. So naturally, I am anxious about the adoption.

To encourage people to try Coagmento and provide us feedback, we are even giving out prizes that include iPod Nanos and iTunes Gift Cards. More details can be found from CSpace (the space that you get once you login). I will try to keep posting more updates about the feedback and developments of Coagmento as the beta testing goes along. I believe there is much to be learned by all of us here – researchers, software developers, and educators alike. Stay tuned!

Adoption – the biggest challenge

As we continue testing Coagmento in more naturalistic settings, we discover one thing over and over again – it’s really hard to get people adopt to a uniquely new system such as Coagmento. It’s one thing to theoretically show and principally accept the importance of different features and functions, and it’s another thing to actually use them in practice. I always knew there would be this challenge, but now I am beginning to see it as the biggest challenge of all.

More than a year back I had a discussion with Dr. Paul Kantor of Rutgers about the non-realistic nature of lab studies. At that time I was designing a user study for Coagmento that would take place in lab. I mentioned to Paul that I didn’t think this could give us appreciation for the “real” issues and challenges that one may encounter with a system like Coagmento. What Paul advised me made an everlasting impression on me: “try to be scientific, not realistic.” He was right. Given that I wanted to study human behavior in collaboration, it was a wise idea to conduct a lab study where I could control various system parameters and monitor user behavior effectively.

And now that the lab study is done, I am taking my work to the next level (in a way) – opening up to the challenges of the “real world”. The beta testers have so far liked many of the features of Coagmento, but they admit having additional cognitive load and not being used to such interface as biggest issues. This makes it hard for them to easily adopt Coagmento. Therefore, one of my biggest considerations now is making Coagmento as seamlessly integrated in day-to-day life as possible. Many challenges lie ahead, but we have a good start and a strong foundation!

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.