CSCW 2006: Collaborative editing 20 years later

November 28, 2006

Posted by Lilly Irani & Jens Riegelsberger, User Experience team

9am Mountain View, California. 6pm Zurich, Switzerland. The two of us sit separated by thousands miles, telephones tucked under our ears, talking about this blog post and typing words and edits into Google Docs. As we talk about the title, we start typing into the same paragraph -- and Lilly gets a warning: "You've edited a paragraph that Jens has been editing!" Lilly stops typing so she doesn't lose her thoughts and coordinates with Jens over the phone. Then we realize "We just talked about this problem at the conference we're writing about!"

Two weeks ago four Googlers ventured north to attend ACM CSCW in Banff, Alberta, Canada. CSCW is ACM's conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and brings together computer scientists, social scientists, and designers interested in how people live their lives -- at work, at play, and in between -- with and around technology, with a focus on undestanding the design of technological systems. Topics like issues and implementation of collaborative editing are staples at CSCW.

As this year was the conference's 20th anniversary, we had a chance to hear from many of the founders of CSCW: Irene Greif, Jonathan Grudin, Tom Malone, Judy Olson, Lucy Suchman, among others. Not surprisingly, the mood was introspective, with many speakers tracing the impact of the community over time and looking critically and constructively at the future paths the research community might take. Many sessions focused on less traditional areas of research, such as how Facebook figures into college students' school transitions and how tagging vocabularies evolve and are shaped by technology in a movie community. Jens also gave a talk on his pre-Google research on how photos and voice profiles affect people's choice of gaming partners. And he participated in a workshop exploring how people trust -- and learn to trust -- in online environments.

Apart from actively taking part in the debates and Q&As, we also demo-ed Google's tools for getting things done, collaboratively or solo: Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Google Notebook. These were met with much interest, as these publicly available Google tools build on insights gained in the CSCW field over the last 20 years.

If you're interested in these issues, you'd be a great addition to our team. Learn about available positions in user experience research and design.