Computer Science Department
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Lowering the Cost of Communication and Making it More Enjoyable

Adam M. Fass

May 2005

Ph.D. Thesis


Keywords: Asynchronous collaboration, computer supported cooperative work, group and organization Interfaces, large displays, MessyBoard, screen saver, web-based interaction.

Large projects require multiple people to work together. Often, these people do not communicate as much as they should. One reason is that communication takes time and effort and causes interruptions. Another reason is that work related communication can be unpleasant. The goals of this research are to reduce the costs of communication and to make it more enjoyable in order to improve collaboration.

In order to achieve these goals I have created MessyBoard, a communication medium based on the metaphor of a two-dimensional bulletin board. This medium allows people to easily use mixed media and spatial relationships to communicate their ideas. I use large public displays and screen savers to ensure that people see it naturally without being interrupted unexpectedly or having to explicitly set aside time. MessyBoard runs as a Java applet in a web browser so that people can begin using it immediately with any computer.

I have observed 191 MessyBoard spaces used by groups at Carnegie Mellon University and by anonymous users over on the Internet. I collected observations through a combination of automatic logging, interviews and ethnographic observation. I have observed that larger groups (25 or more members) are more likely to adopt MessyBoard than smaller groups (15 or fewer members). Larger groups use MessyBoard for a mixture of playful and goal-directed activities. The small groups that use MessyBoard the most tend to use it as a file sharing tool.

240 pages

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