Groupware is a technology designed to facilitate the work of groups. This technology may be used to communicate, cooperate, coordinate, solve problems, compete, or negotiate. While traditional technologies like the telephone qualify as groupware, the term is ordinarily used to refer to a specific class of technologies relying on modern computer networks, such as email, newsgroups, videophones, or chat.
Groupware technologies are typically categorized along two primary dimensions:
1. Whether users of the groupware are working together at the same time ("real-time" or "synchronous" groupware) or different times ("asynchronous" groupware).
2. Whether users are working together in the same place ("collocated" or "face-to-face") or in different places ("non-collocated" or "distance").
Groupware design involves understanding groups and how people behave in groups. It also involves having a good understanding of networking technology and how aspects of that technology affect a user's experience. All the issues related to traditional user interface design remains relevant, since the technology still involves people.
Many aspects of groups require special consideration. For instance, not only do million-person groups behave differently from 5-person groups, but also the performance parameters of the technologies to support different groups vary. Ease-of-use must be better for groupware than for single-user systems because the pace of a conversation often drives the pace of use of an application. System responsiveness and reliability become more significant issues. Designers must have an understanding of the degree of homogeneity of users, of the possible roles people play in cooperative work and of who key decision-makers are and what influences them.
There are several types of groupware applications and their associated design options. Comparing those design options across applications yields interesting new perspectives on well-known applications. Also, in many cases, these systems can be used together, and in fact, are intended to be used in conjunction. For...