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e-Service Journal 1.3 (2002) 1-3

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The Editor's Column

Working Together, Being Apart

Kelly Burke, Guest Editor

This special issue of the e-Service Journal focuses on electronic collaboration (e-collaboration) and includes five papers that examine a range of issues from the underlying technologies to the organizational impacts of e-collaboration. E-collaboration technologies and the context in which they are used have undergone tremendous change and development in recent years. They have also generated significant changes in the contexts of collaboration. The papers included in this issue reflect on and explore the impact of these changes. In doing so, the papers collectively identify key trends occurring in the electronic support of distributed collaboration.

One of the more visible trends is how Web-based systems have dramatically altered the manner in which distributed teams communicate and collaborate. Since early implementations of group support systems focused on face-to-face environments, considerable attention had to be paid to the "client" infrastructure—from how terminals were arranged to the sequence in which tools were available. Even with the emergence of distributed communication tools such as Notes, the client side of such systems could not be ignored. Such investments in client infrastructure were costly and proved to be major hurdles in the wide deployment of distributed GSS for many organizations.

With the emergence of the Web and the free availability of browsers, a new generation of distributed group support tools has evolved. Such tools, some of which are freely available (e.g., 'NetMeeting' as employed by groups soliciting software requirements in the Damian paper), have reduced organizational overhead by reducing the focus on the client infrastructure and integrating features of the tools with existing systems. Several papers in this issue—Kumar and Benbasat; and Damian, for example— examine different aspects of the Web in the context of distributed communication and collaboration.

Kumar and Benbasat's paper, "Para-Social Presence And Communication Capabilities Of A Web Site: A Theoretical Perspective," looks at emergent properties in the interaction between a web site and its visitors. A web site, when seen as an agent in the social interaction between itself and a visitor, plays an active role in the construction of the parameters of involvement and subsequent interaction. Hence, businesses may need to rethink how they view the design of website environments in general and e-collaboration support tools in particular. [End Page 1]

A second trend that is evident in a variety of distributed group support systems is the incorporation of various multi-media capabilities. From the relatively mundane voice-embedded e-mail messages to the more sophisticated full motion video conferencing, the gamut of options for communicating across distances has increased tremendously over the last decade. Partly as a reflection of this trend, some papers in this special issue deal directly —Damian, for instance—and indirectly with these matters.

Damian's paper, "An Empirical Study of a Multimedia Group Support System for Distributed Software Requirements Meetings," presents results from a study using high- quality audio and video, along with real-time application sharing in software requirements solicitation. Generally the paper argues that the degree of quality and technology support have a positive impact on usage and team performance. Organizations can look to these results for guidance on methods of support for teams involved in requirements gathering.

Another trend in e-collaboration has less to do with technological maturity and more to do with the methodological maturity of this field of study. In the early days of collaboration support systems research, primarily academic questions were studied using relatively precise research methods. Now, however, studies are pushing the methodological envelope. Ocker and Morand for instance, probe organizationally relevant issues with precision and rigor.

In their paper, "Exploring the Mediating Effect of Group Development on Satisfaction in a Virtual and Mixed-Mode Environment," the authors examine the impact of group development factors—cohesion and conflict management—on members' satisfaction with the interaction process and the task solution. The experiment limited interaction mode to one of two conditions—pure CMC and a combination of CMC and face...


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