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Collaboration is a sign of maturation. A child is nurtured at home before venturing into the world. An idea is first developed then introduced to a larger community. We work on a software module in isolation before integrating it.
Computing is coming of age. Computer-assisted instruction helped us nurture skills individually, classroom computing supports group interaction. A word processor helped us develop our idea in isolation, a collaborative writing tool helps us introduce it to others. A debugger helped us quietly work on our program, a code management system helps us integrate our work with others. Electronic mail and computer conferencing dissolve the boundaries between groups and organizations--and countries.
Collaborative computing already affects us. For example, changes wrought by computer systems in air travel and financial markets have wide-ranging indirect effects. These reflect the coordination of select groups of people: They are just the beginning. As computation reaches all members of groups and organizations, opportunities proliferate to support and change the ways we work together.
Over the past five years, attention to collaborative computing has increased dramatically. The banner of "computer-supported cooperative work" (CSCW) was first unfurled by Paul Cashman and Irene Greif in 1984, summoning researchers and developers to a series of ACM-sponsored conferences that examine how people work in groups and how technology can support them. Substantial conference participation from Asia and a parallel series of European conferences demonstrate the scope of interest. Similarly, Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz's term "groupware" has become a desirable product label, suggesting a technology breaking away from its confinement to individual desktops.
Why should you be interested?
You work, play, and interact with other people. Computers will not appear everywhere, but the potential for supporting collaboration is limitless, and more of the potential is realized every day. Some of the changes that are introduced by the new technology are obvious and absorbed smoothly, but others are subtle and require preparation. There is excitement and opportunity in seeing what is coming; there is risk in ignoring it.
Another reason to be interested in CSCW is that very likely you have colleagues working in this area. Computer scientists and systems developers devise algorithms to support concurrent activity, develop software that runs across …