Developing Usable, Collaborative, Multimedia Technology

John Tang, Sun Microsystems Laboratories, Inc. (SMLI)

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University April 22, 1992


In the Conferencing and Collaboration (COCO) group within SMLI, we have developed a prototype desktop conferencing system that provides audio, video, and shared drawing connections among workstation desktops. In order to come to grips with some of the many issues involved in introducing multimedia and collaborative technology to the desktop, we have been involved in several studies of collaborative activity. We did a survey of the users of the commercial video conferencing rooms used within Sun to assess users' perceptions of what they needed to support remote collaboration. We analyzed videotapes of an actual working team that was split between East and West Coast sites to understand their actual collaborative activity. We are currently in the process of using our desktop conferencing prototype to study a distributed working team under 3 conditions: using conventional collaboration tools, using desktop conferencing, and using desktop conferencing without video. In this talk, I'll be presenting the results of these studies (although at the time of talk, I'll only be able to talk about the first 2 conditions of the last study). I'll discuss not only the findings of the studies, but some of the methodological issues of using different approaches to collect and analyze data on work practice.


John Tang works on developing prototype user interfaces for multimedia collaborative systems and studying collaborative activity in order to guide the design of those prototypes. Prior to joining the recently formed SMLI research center at Sun, he worked at Xerox PARC developing and studying several shared drawing prototype tools. His doctoral research at Stanford University was on studying group design activity.


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