Collaborative software

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Collaborative software or groupware is an application software designed to help people involved in a common task to achieve goals. One of the earliest definitions of collaborative software is 'intentional group processes plus software to support them.'[1]

The design information technology, seems to have several definitions. Understanding the differences in human interactions is necessary to ensure that appropriate technologies are employed to meet interaction needs.

Collaborative software is a broad concept that overlaps considerably with Computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW). Some authors argue they are equivalent.[who?] According to Carstensen and Schmidt (1999)[2] groupware is part of CSCW. The authors claim that CSCW, and thereby groupware, addresses "how collaborative activities and their coordination can be supported by means of computer systems." Software products such as email, calendaring, text chat, wiki, and bookmarking belong to this category whenever used for group work, whereas the more general term social software applies to systems used outside the workplace, for example, online dating services and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. It has been suggested[who?] that Metcalfe's law — the more people who use something, the more valuable it becomes — applies to these types of software.

The use of collaborative software in the work space creates a collaborative working environment (CWE). A collaborative working environment supports people in both their individual and cooperative work thus evolving into a new class of professionals, e-professionals, who can work together irrespective of their geographical location.[citation needed]

Finally, collaborative software relates to the notion of collaborative work systems, which are conceived as any form of human organization that emerges any time that collaboration takes place, whether it is formal or informal, intentional or unintentional.[3] Whereas the groupware or collaborative software pertains to the technological elements of computer-supported cooperative work, collaborative work systems become a useful analytical tool to understand the behavioral and organizational variables that are associated to the broader concept of CSCW.[4]


See also: MUD

Douglas Engelbart first envisioned collaborative computing in 1951 and documented his vision in 1962,[5] with working prototypes in full operational use by his research team by the mid-1960s,[6] and held the first public demonstration of his work in 1968 in what is now referred to as "The Mother of All Demos."[7] The following year, Engelbart's lab was hooked into the ARPANET, the first computer network, enabling them to extend services to a broader userbase. See also Intelligence Amplification Section 4: Douglas Engelbart, ARPANET Section on ARPANET Deployed, and the Doug Engelbart Archive Collection.

Online collaborative gaming software began between early networked computer users. In 1975, Will Crowther created Colossal Cave Adventure on a DEC PDP-10 computer. As internet connections grew, so did the numbers of users and multi-user games. In 1978 Roy Trubshaw, a student at Essex University in the United Kingdom, created the game MUD (Multi-User Dungeon). A number of other MUDs were created, but remained a computer science novelty until the late 1980s, when personal computers with dial-up modems began to be more common in homes, largely through the use of multi-line Bulletin Board Systems and online service providers.[citation needed]

Parallel to development of MUDs were applications for online chat, video sharing and voice over IP.[citation needed] Studies at MITRE showed the value of voice and text chat, and sharing pictures for shared understanding.[citation needed]

The US Government began using truly collaborative applications in the early 1990s.[8] One of the first robust applications was the Navy's Common Operational Modeling, Planning and Simulation Strategy (COMPASS).[9] The COMPASS system allowed up to 6 users created point-to-point connections with one another; the collaborative session only remained while at least one user stayed active, and would have to be recreated if all six logged out. MITRE improved on that model by hosting the collaborative session on a server that each user logged into. Called the Collaborative Virtual Workstation (CVW), this allowed the session to be set up in a virtual file cabinet and virtual rooms, and left as a persistent session that could be joined later.[10]

In 1996, Pavel Curtis, who had built MUDs at PARC, created PlaceWare, a server that simulated a one-to-many auditorium, with side chat between "seat-mates", and the ability to invite a limited number of audience members to speak. In 1997, engineers at GTE used the PlaceWare engine in a commercial version of MITRE's CVW, calling it InfoWorkSpace (IWS). In 1998, IWS was chosen as the military standard for the standardized Air Operations Center.[11] The IWS product was sold to General Dynamics and then later to Ezenia.[12]

Philosophical underpinnings[edit]

See also: Virtual Teams

Technology has long been used to bring people together. However, as distance increases, rules and protocols need to be implemented. One seminal book on the process of working together from a distance is Virtual Teams by Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps.[13]


Collaborative software was originally designated as groupware and this term can be traced as far back as the late 1980s, when Richman and Slovak (1987)[14] wrote:

"Like an electronic sinew that binds teams together, the new groupware aims to place the computer squarely in the middle of communications among managers, technicians, and anyone else who interacts in groups, revolutionizing the way they work."

Even further back, in 1978 Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz coined the term groupware; their initial 1978 definition of groupware was, “intentional group processes plus software to support them.” Later in their article they went on to explain groupware as “computer-mediated culture... an embodiment of social organization in hyperspace." Groupware integrates co-evolving human and tool systems, yet is simply a single system.[1]

In the early 1990s the first commercial groupware products were delivered, and big companies such as Boeing and IBM started using electronic meeting systems for key internal projects. Lotus Notes appeared as a major example of that product category, allowing remote group collaboration when the internet was still in its infancy. Kirkpatrick and Losee (1992)[15] wrote then:

"If GROUPWARE really makes a difference in productivity long term, the very definition of an office may change. You will be able to work efficiently as a member of a group wherever you have your computer. As computers become smaller and more powerful, that will mean anywhere."

As collaborative software evolves and migrates onto the internet, it contributes to the development of the so-called Web 2.0 bringing a host of collaborative features that were originally conceived for within the corporate network. These include, amongst others, functionalities such as document sharing (including group editing), group calendar, instant messaging and web conferencing.

Groupware and organizations[edit]

The study of computer-supported collaboration includes the study of collaborative software and the social phenomena associated with it. There is a wealth of research produced about the impact of groupware in organizations and related social and psychological issues since the early eighties. Since 1984 the great majority of this work has been organized and communicated within the boundaries of a specialized scientific event - the Computer Supported Cooperative Work conferences - which are held by the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group in Computer-Human Interaction biannually.

Design and implementation issues[edit]

The complexity of groupware development is still an issue. One reason for this is the socio-technical dimension of groupware. Groupware designers do not only have to address technical issues (as in traditional software development) but also consider the social group processes that should be supported with the groupware application. Some examples for issues in groupware development are:

  • Persistence is needed in some sessions. Chat and voice communications are routinely non-persistent and evaporate at the end of the session. Virtual room and online file cabinets can persist for years. The designer of the collaborative space needs to consider the information duration needs and implement accordingly.
  • Authentication has always been a problem with groupware. When connections are made point-to-point, or when log-in registration is enforced, it's clear who is engaged in the session. However, audio and unmoderated sessions carry the risk of unannounced 'lurkers' who observe but do not announce themselves or contribute.[16][17]
  • Until recently, bandwidth issues at fixed location limited full use of the tools. These are exacerbated with mobile devices.
  • Multiple input and output streams bring concurrency issues into the groupware applications.
  • Motivational issues are important, especially in settings where no pre-defined group process was in place.
  • Closely related to the motivation aspect is the question of reciprocity. Ellis and others[18] have shown that the distribution of efforts and benefits has to be carefully balanced in order to ensure that all required group members really participate.

One approach for addressing these issues is the use of design patterns for groupware design.[19] The patterns identify recurring groupware design issues and discuss design choices in a way that all stakeholders can participate in the groupware development process.

Groupware and levels of collaboration[edit]

Groupware can be divided into three categories depending on the level of collaboration:[20]

  1. Communication can be thought of as unstructured interchange of information. A phone call or an IM Chat discussion are examples of this.
  2. Conferencing (or collaboration level, as it is called in the academic papers that discuss these levels) refers to interactive work toward a shared goal. Brainstorming or voting are examples of this.
  3. Co-ordination refers to complex interdependent work toward a shared goal. A good metaphor for understanding this is to think about a sports team; everyone has to contribute the right play at the right time as well as adjust their play to the unfolding situation - but everyone is doing something different - in order for the team to win. That is complex interdependent work toward a shared goal: collaborative management.

Electronic communication tools[edit]

Electronic communication tools send messages, files, data, or documents between people and hence facilitate the sharing of information. Examples include:

Electronic conferencing tools[edit]

Electronic conferencing tools facilitate the sharing of information, but in a more interactive way. Examples include:

  • Internet forums (also known as message boards or discussion boards) — a virtual discussion platform to facilitate and manage online text messages
  • Online chat — a virtual discussion platform to facilitate and manage real-time text messages
  • Instant Messaging
  • Telephonytelephones allow users to interact
  • Videoconferencing — networked PCs share video and audio signals
  • Data conferencing — networked PCs share a common whiteboard that each user can modify
  • Application sharing — users can access a shared document or application from their respective computers simultaneously in real time
  • Electronic meeting systems (EMS) — originally these were described as "electronic meeting systems," and they were built into meeting rooms. These special purpose rooms usually contained video projectors interlinked with numerous PCs; however, electronic meeting systems have evolved into web-based, any time, any place systems that will accommodate "distributed" meeting participants who may be dispersed in several locations.

Collaborative management (coordination) tools[edit]

Collaborative management tools facilitate and manage group activities. Examples include:

  • electronic calendars (also called time management software) — schedule events and automatically notify and remind group members
  • project management systems — schedule, track, and chart the steps in a project as it is being completed
  • online proofing — share, review, approve, and reject web proofs, artwork, photos, or videos between designers, customers, and clients
  • workflow systems — collaborative management of tasks and documents within a knowledge-based business process
  • knowledge management systems — collect, organize, manage, and share various forms of information
  • enterprise bookmarking — collaborative bookmarking engine to tag, organize, share, and search enterprise data
  • prediction markets — let a group of people predict together the outcome of future events
  • extranet systems (sometimes also known as 'project extranets') — collect, organize, manage and share information associated with the delivery of a project (e.g.: the construction of a building)
  • social software systems — organize social relations of groups
  • online spreadsheets — collaborate and share structured data and information
  • client portals — interact and share with your clients in a private online environment[21]

Gathering applications

This functionality may be included in some wikis and blogs, e.g. Wetpaint. Primarily includes:

  • surveys
  • project management
  • feedback
  • time tracking
  • viewer restrictions


Either stand-alone (such as MediaWiki), part of a suite (such as TikiWiki or Sakai,) or web-based (such as Wikipedia). A wiki typically includes wiki pages (shared/editable pages) and associations between pages.[22]

A Wiki might also include:

  • workflow management
  • page discussion/chat
  • image and file galleries

Collaborative software and human interaction[edit]

The design intent of collaborative software (groupware) is to transform the way documents and rich media are shared in order to enable more effective team collaboration.

Collaboration, with respect to information technology, seems to have several definitions. Some are defensible but others are so broad they lose any meaningful application. Understanding the differences in human interactions is necessary to ensure the appropriate technologies are employed to meet interaction needs.

There are three primary ways in which humans interact: conversations, transactions, and collaborations.[23]

Conversational interaction is an exchange of information between two or more participants where the primary purpose of the interaction is discovery or relationship building. There is no central entity around which the interaction revolves but is a free exchange of information with no defined constraints generally focused on personal experiences.[24] Communication technology such as telephones, instant messaging, and e-mail are generally sufficient for conversational interactions.

Transactional interaction involves the exchange of transaction entities where a major function of the transaction entity is to alter the relationship between participants. The transaction entity is in a relatively stable form and constrains or defines the new relationship. One participant exchanges money for goods and becomes a customer. Transactional interactions are most effectively handled by transactional systems that manage state and commit records for persistent storage.

In collaborative interactions the main function of the participants' relationship is to alter a collaboration entity (i.e., the converse of transactional). The collaboration entity is in a relatively unstable form. Examples include the development of an idea, the creation of a design, the achievement of a shared goal. Therefore, real collaboration technologies deliver the functionality for many participants to augment a common deliverable. Record or document management, threaded discussions, audit history, and other mechanisms designed to capture the efforts of many into a managed content environment are typical of collaboration technologies.

Collaboration in Education- two or more co-equal individuals voluntarily bring their knowledge and experiences together by interacting toward a common goal in the best interest of students' needs for the betterment of their educational success.

Collaboration requires individuals working together in a coordinated fashion, towards a common goal. Accomplishing the goal is the primary purpose for bringing the team together. Collaborative software helps facilitate the action-oriented team working together over geographic distances by providing tools that help communication, collaboration and the process of problem solving by providing the team with a common means for communicating ideas and brainstorming. Additionally, collaborative software may support project management functions, such as task assignments, time-management with deadlines and shared calendars. The artifacts, the tangible evidence of the problem solving process, including the final outcome of the collaborative effort, typically require documentation and archiving of the process itself, and may involve archiving project plans, deadlines and deliverables.

Collaborative software should support the individuals that make up the team and the interactions between them during the group decision making process. Many of today's teams are composed of members from around the globe, with some members using their second or third language in communicating with the group. This situation provides cultural as well as linguistic challenges for any software that supports the collaborative effort. The software may also support team membership, roles and responsibilities. Additionally, collaborative support systems may offer the ability to support ancillary systems, such as budgets and physical resources.

Brainstorming is considered to be a tenet of collaboration, with the rapid exchange of ideas facilitating the group decision making process. Collaborative software provides areas that support multi-user editing, such as virtual whiteboards and chat or other forms of communication. Better solutions record the process and provide revision history. An emerging category of computer software, a collaboration platform is a unified electronic platform that supports synchronous and asynchronous communication through a variety of devices and channels.

An extension of groupware is collaborative media, software that allows several concurrent users to create and manage information in a website. Collaborative media models include wiki (Comparison of wiki software) and Slashdot models. Some sites with publicly accessible content based on collaborative software are: WikiWikiWeb, Wikipedia and Everything2. By method used we can divide them into:

  • Web-based collaborative tools
  • Software collaborative tools

Along with these, already traditional, methods recent expansion of corporate use of Second Life and other virtual worlds led to development of a newer generation of software that takes advantage of a 3D data presentation. Some of this software (3D Topicscape) works independently from virtual worlds and simply uses 3D to support user "in concept creation, planning, organization, development and actualization". Other [1] designed specifically to assist in collaboration when using virtual worlds as a business platform, while yet another type of software, Collaborative Knowledge Management (cKM), bridges the gap and can be used simultaneously in Second Life and on the web.

By area served we can divide collaborative software into:

Collaborative project management tools[edit]

Collaborative project management tools (CPMT) are very similar to collaborative management tools (CMT) except that CMT may only facilitate and manage a certain group activities for a part of a bigger project or task, while CPMT covers all detailed aspects of collaboration activities and management of the overall project and its related knowledge areas.

Another major difference is that CMT may include social software, Document Management System (DMS) and Unified Communication (UC) while CPMT mostly considers business or corporate related goals with some kind of social boundaries most commonly used for project management.


During the mid-1990s project management started to evolve into collaborative project management; this was when the process in which a project's inputs and outputs were carried out started to change with the evolution of the internet. Since the geographical boundaries broadened the development teams increasingly became more remote changing the dynamics of a project team thus changing the way a project was managed.

Former chairman of General Electric, Jack Welch, believed that you could not be successful if you went it alone in a global economy.[citation needed] Therefore Welch became a driving force behind not only collaboration between organizations, but also collaborative project management.


Collaborative project management tools (CPMT) Collaborative management tools (CMT)

CPMT facilitate and manage social or group project based activities.

Examples include:

In addition to most CPMT examples, CMT also includes:


Dimensions diagram

Different frameworks could be established based on a project needs and requirements in order to find the best software. But the best framework is the one in which the characteristics are so well defined that they cover all the aspects of collaboration activities and management of the overall project.

The challenge in determining which CPM software to use is having a good understanding of the requirements and tools needed for project development. There are many dynamics that make project management challenging (coordination, collaboration, sharing of knowledge and effectiveness of pm's to facilitate the process). Choosing the right CPM software is essential to complementing these issues. According to a survey conducted in 2008 to find out what project managers' expectations and uses of project management software are, the features most important to project managers with project management software were:

  • Ability to plan using and sequence activities using CPM/PDM/PERT or Gantt Chart method,
  • Produce project master schedules based on project/task/work breakdown structures, with subordinate details,
  • Critical path calculation.
Dimensions Descriptions / Examples
Resources Requirements
  • Human
  • Equipment
  • Time
  • Cost
System Requirements
  • Platform: The operating system that the system can perform on (example Windows, Mac, Linux). Platform type single and multiple.
  • Hardware: physical requirements such as hard drive space and amount of memory.
  • Installation/access: How and where the software is installed.
  • Types of installations stand alone, server based, web portal.
Support Requirements
  • Email
  • 24/7 or restricted schedules
  • Online or web help
  • Built-in Help i.e. MS Office
  • On location assistance
  • Training on-site/off-site
Collaboration Requirements
  • Group Size: The number of users that software supports
  • Email list
  • Revision Control
  • Charting
  • Document versioning
  • Document retention
  • Document sharing
  • Document repository

Collaboration software and voting methods[edit]

Some collaboration software allows users to vote, rate, and rank choices, often for the purpose of extracting the collective intelligence of the participants. The votes, ratings, and rankings can be used in various ways such as:

  • Producing an average rating, such as 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Calculating a popularity ranking, such as a "top 10" list.
  • Guiding the creation and organization of documents, such as in Wikipedia where voting helps to guide the creation of new pages.
  • Making a recommendation that may assist in making a decision.

In the case of decision making, Condorcet voting can combine multiple perspectives in a way that reduces intransitivity. Additional uses of collaborative voting, such as voting to determine the sequence of sections in a Wikipedia article, remain unexplored. It's worth noting that no matter what voting method is implemented, Arrow's Impossibility Theorem guarantees that an ideal voting system can never be attained if there are three or more alternatives that are voted upon.

In addition to allowing participants to rank pre-existing choices, some collaboration software allows participants to add new choices to the list of choices being ranked.[25]

Voting in collaboration software is related to recommendation systems that generate appreciated recommendations based on ratings or rankings collected from many people.

Collaborative Software Vendors[edit]

See also[edit]

Closely related terms[edit]

Groupware type of applications[edit]

Other related type of applications[edit]

Other related terms[edit]

Lists of collaborative software[edit]


  1. ^ a b Johnson-Lenz, Peter. "Rhythms, Boundaries, and Containers:". Awakening Technology. Retrieved 30 April 1990.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  2. ^ Carstensen, P.H.; Schmidt, K. (1999). "Computer supported cooperative work: new challenges to systems design". Retrieved 2007-08-03. 
  3. ^ Beyerlein, M; Freedman, S.; McGee, G.; Moran, L. (2002). Beyond Teams: Building the Collaborative Organization. The Collaborative Work Systems series, Wiley.
  4. ^ Wilson, P. (1991). Computer Supported Cooperative Work: An Introduction. Kluwer Academic Pub.
  5. ^ Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, Douglas C. Engelbart, 1962]
  6. ^ A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect, Douglas C. Engelbart and William K. English, 1968.
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  10. ^
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  14. ^ Richman, Louis S; Slovak, Julianne (June 8, 1987). "SOFTWARE CATCHES THE TEAM SPIRIT New computer programs may soon change the way groups of people work together -- and start delivering the long-awaited payoff from office automation.fouttoune". 
  15. ^ Kirkpatrick, D.; Losee, S. (March 23, 1992). "HERE COMES THE PAYOFF FROM PCs New network software lets brainstormers around a table all talk at once on their keyboards. The result: measurable productivity gains from desktop computing". 
  16. ^ [2][dead link]
  17. ^ [3][dead link]
  18. ^ Ellis, Clarence A.; Gibbs, Simon J.; Rein, Gail (1991). "Groupware: some issues and experiences. Commun. ACM 34, 1 (January 1991), 39-58. DOI=10.1145/99977.99987". 
  19. ^ Till Schümmer and Stephan Lukosch. 2007. Patterns for Computer-Mediated Interaction (Wiley Software Patterns Series). John Wiley & Sons.
  20. ^ "Groupware - Communication, Collaboration and Coordination". Lotus Development Corporation. 1995. 
  21. ^ Neely, Edward. "What is a Client Portal?". Clinked. Retrieved 6 February 2014. 
  22. ^ The Wiki Way
  23. ^ How People Interact – Collaboration Made Easy
  24. ^ Dunbar, R. I.; Marriott, A.; Duncan, N. D. (1997). "Human conversational behavior". Human Nature : An Interdisciplinary Biosocial Perspective 8 (3): 231–246. doi:10.1007/BF02912493. 
  25. ^ Richard Fobes. "Software negotiation tool". Retrieved 2014-06-25. 

External links[edit]