Visual Languages for Cooperation
 

Fred Lakin

Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University
       lakin@csli.stanford.edu
Center for Design Research, Stanford University
       lakin@cdr.stanford.edu


Abstract

When people employ text and graphic objects in communication, those objects have meaning under a system of interpretation, or visual language. Visual languages for cooperation are graphical representations for forms of group work like brainstorming or cooperative task structuring. A visual language for cooperation can assist group members by giving them a way of visualizing an aspect of group work so they can better understand and perform it. And if a computer system can interpret expressions in such a language, then it can participate in the group's work. This chapter presents a computer graphics system which can process visual languages for expressing the structure of group work, thus providing a way for computers to understand and assist intellectual teamwork.

One of the best examples of the intellectual teamwork that we are concerned with in this volume is the iterative design-discussion-presentation cycle which characterizes the work of engineers and technical designers. Their day-to-day activities typically involve combinations of work in groups and work by individuals, and incorporates discussion of ideas, reactions to preliminary designs and the construction of text-and-graphic presentations, perhaps including both printed documents and visual displays. At present, moving through this cycle requires people to use a variety of technologies to support their individual work and their communication with each other, ranging from notes hastily jotted on a piece of paper to very sophisticated computer-aided design (CAD) tools. In this chapter, I will describe my efforts to produce a computer-based tool called vmacs to support activities like these that will permit people to move back and forth from working alone to working with other people, using a single piece of software for creating and modifying text and graphics, and for communicating with each other.


Diagraming Task Structures

 

Task structure diagram and working map for a group designing a telescope



Contents

1. Introduction

2. Monday at Work: Scenario One
2.1 Observations about Scenario One

3. Early Research Systems
3.1 Wall Scroll
3.2 Vacuum Boards
3.3 Group Cards

4. Text-Graphic Activity Analysis
4.1 Methodology
4.2 Features of Text-Graphic Manipulation for Working Groups
4.3 Working Group Graphics Theory

5. A Computer Medium for Performing Text-Graphics
5.1 Performing Medium and Processing Medium

6. Details of vmacs
6.1 A Libertarian Editor
6.2 Single Operator
6.3 Group Tool Or Individual Tool?
6.4 A Bottom-Up Tool
6.5 Implementation
6.6 Processing Visual Languages for Cooperation in vmacs

7. Extended Face-to-Face Meeting Support
7.1 Joint Authoring with the proof-marks Language
7.2 Group Idea Generation Using the brainstorm-organizer Language

8. Storage and Retrieval of Text-Graphics
8.1 Simple Storage and Retrieval
8.2 Smart Retrieval with the text-graphic-query Language

9. Non Face-to-Face Communication
9.1 Mailing with the visual-mail Language

10. Administration of Cooperative Team Work
10.1 Diagraming Task Structures
10.2 The task-structure Language

11. Monday at Work: Scenario Two with vmacs

12. Conclusions
12.1 Visual Languages for Cooperation can assist Group Work
12.2 Visual Languages for Cooperation can be processed in a Computer Performance Medium
12.3 Visual Languages for Cooperation should be processed in a Computer Performance Medium

13. Footnotes

14. References


Presented as a paper for the NSF workshop TECHNOLOGY AND COOPERATIVE WORK, Tucson, Arizona, February, 1988; reprinted as a chapter in INTELLECTUAL TEAMWORK: SOCIAL AND TECHNICAL BASES OF COLLABORATIVE WORK, edited by Egido, Carmen, Galegher, Jolene and Kraut, Robert, Lawrence Erlbaum publishers, 1990, pg 453-488.


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