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  • Journal Article
    The Invisible World of Intermediaries: A Cautionary Tale
    (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 36220) Ehrlich*, Kate; Cash, Debra
    Many observers consider traditional intermediaries such as brokers, lenders and salespersons anachronisms in a world where consumers can communicate directly with providers of products and services over computer networks. Under the same rubric, information mediators such as journalists, editors, librarians and customer support representatives are being targeted for elimination. Drawing on our ethnographically-informed studies of customer support analysts and librarians, we demonstrate that the expertise and experience of intermediaries is often invisible – to the consumer, to the organization in which these intermediaries work, and even to the intermediaries' managers. The valuable services provided by intermediaries are not made unnecessary by end-user access. We argue for a richer understanding of intermediation, and a reallocation of functions and roles in which “new intermediaries” – people, software or a combination of the two – aggregate, personalize and assure the quality of information.
  • Journal Article
    Collaborative Networks Among Female Middle Managers in a Hierarchical Organization
    (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 36220) Westerberg, Kristina
    I present empirical findings from an observational study of female municipal middle managers who are home help assistants in elder care. The observations showed that the home help assistants' sphere of activity was influenced by two distinct patterns: the official line organization and the invisible horizontal social network. I first give a brief description to the immediate background of the present study. Then I describe the line organization and give two empirical examples of information exchange where the practical implication of the line organization at different levels is visible. However, the study also revealed another pattern opposed to the line organization, called the horizontal network. I will give an empirical example of an incident that illustrates how the home help assistants use a social network to solve problems and to make judgments. The study showed that these networks are not persistent – they are rebuilt depending upon context. Members of the network can be people both within and outside the municipal organization. Decisions and problem solving are thus conducted in a process of interaction and negotiations with other people. The social networks are not visible in the official organizational description. Still they form the foundation for the home help assistants' work and influence their ideas of how the work should be conducted. Finally I discuss some implications of the line organization and the social network and the possible consequences when introducing new technology, i.e., computers in work. In this case the computers were planned to support the line organization but not the work practice of social networks.
  • Journal Article
    CSCW Requirements and Evaluation, Thomas, P.J. (ed.)
    (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 8, No. 3, 1999) Haper, Richard H.R.
  • Journal Article
    Invisible Work of Telephone Operators: An Ethnocritical Analysis
    (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 1999) Muller, Michael J.
    This paper applies principles derived from ethnocriticism to help explain differential outcomes with different methods used to analyze the work of Directory Assistance telephone operators in a large US telecommunications company. The work of Directory Assistance operators provides a subtle case of computer-supported cooperative work. Collaborative work between operator and customer is supported and shaped by digitized-voice and database technologies. Our work also involved the introduction of additional voice-recognition technologies to this human-to-human collaboration. In a previous paper, we used methods from participatory design to show that knowledge work is a major component of the operators' conversations with customers. By contrast, other research using formal cognitive task analyses had described operators' work as routine and as involving no active problem solving. How had evidence that we had found so compelling been invisible to other analysts? I analyze the concept of “invisible work” as an attribute not of the work, but rather of the perspectives from which that work appeared to be invisible. Ethnocritical heuristics help us to contrast the analytical methods and their outcomes.
  • Journal Article
    Visible and Invisible Work: The Emerging Post-Industrial Employment Relation
    (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 36220) Bishop, Libby
  • Journal Article
    Layers of Silence, Arenas of Voice: The Ecology of Visible and Invisible Work
    (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 36220) Star, Susan Leigh; Strauss, Anselm
    No work is inherently either visible or invisible. We always “see” work through a selection of indicators: straining muscles, finished artifacts, a changed state of affairs. The indicators change with context, and that context becomes a negotiation about the relationship between visible and invisible work. With shifts in industrial practice these negotiations require longer chains of inference and representation, and may become solely abstract. This article provides a framework for analyzing invisible work in CSCW systems. We sample across a variety of kinds of work to enrich the understanding of how invisibility and visibility operate. Processes examined include creating a “non-person” in domestic work; disembedding background work; and going backstage. Understanding these processes may inform the design of CSCW systems and the development of related social theory.
  • Journal Article
    Formality Considered Harmful: Experiences, Emerging Themes, and Directions on the Use of Formal Representations in Interactive Systems
    (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 8, No. 4, 36495) Shipman, Frank M.; Marshall, Catherine C.
    This paper reflects on experiences designing, developing, and working with users of a variety of interactive computer systems. The authors propose, based on these experiences, that the cause of a number of unexpected difficulties in human-computer interaction lies in users' unwillingness or inability to make structure, content, or procedures explicit. Besides recounting experiences with system use, this paper discusses why users reject or circumvent formalisms which require such explicit expression, and suggests how system designers can anticipate and compensate for problems users have in making implicit aspects of their tasks explicit. The authors propose computational approaches that address this problem, including incremental and system-assisted formalization mechanisms and methods for recognizing and using undeclared structure; they also propose non-computational solutions that involve designers and users reaching a shared understanding of the task situation and the methods that motivate the formalisms. This paper poses that, while it is impossible to remove all formalisms from computing systems, system designers need to match the level of formal expression entailed with the goals and situation of the users -- a design criteria not commonly mentioned in current interface design.
  • Journal Article
    “It's Just a Matter of Common Sense”: Ethnography as Invisible Work
    (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 1999) Forsythe, Diana E.
    Anthropologists have been using ethnographic methods since the 1970s to support the design and evaluation of software. While early use of such skills in the design world was viewed as experimental, at least by computer scientists and engineers, ethnography has now become established as a useful skill in technology design. Not only are corporations and research laboratories employing anthropologists to take part in the development process, but growing numbers of non-anthropologists are attempting to borrow ethnographic techniques. The results of this appropriation have brought out into the open a kind of paradox: while ethnography looks and sounds straightforward, this is not really the case. The work of untrained ethnographers tends to overlook things that anthropologists see as important parts of the research process. The consistency of this pattern suggests that some aspects of ethnographic fieldwork are invisible to the untrained eye. In short, ethnography would appear to constitute an example of invisible work. Drawing on my own decade of experience as an anthropologist working in design, I attempt to clarify the nature of ethnographic expertise, describe six misconceptions about ethnography that I have encountered among scientists, and present real-life examples to illustrate why quasi-ethnographic work based on these misconceptions is likely to be superficial and unreliable.
  • Journal Article
    Media Production: Towards Creative Collaboration Using Communication Networks
    (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 8, No. 4, 36495) Baker, Ellen; Geirland, John; Fisher, Tom; Chandler, Annmarie
    To examine the diffusion of remote collaboration technologies within the media production industries, a series of case studies was recently conducted with early adopters of advanced electronic networks in Sydney, Los Angeles and London. The studies assessed: 1) user reactions to these collaboration technologies and types of activities being supported and 2) factors influencing their adoption decisions. Interviews conducted also provided early indications of the conditions likely to facilitate remote collaboration and the likely impacts on work practices in media production organizations. It was established that electronic delivery, remote access to resources and materials, and remote creative collaboration were all being carried out, even internationally. Although most network applications were routine substitutions for non-electronic equivalents (e.g. couriers or catalogue browsing), some did involve shared creative activities, thus confirming that remote creative collaboration is a viable option. Key factors influencing network adoption were cost considerations and regulatory issues, time savings and productivity, and security concerns. Certain industry segments -- animation, post-production, and advertising -- were more likely to be early adopters, as were companies who found innovative ways to achieve greater benefits. Conditions likely to facilitate remote collaboration include more sophisticated change-agent strategies, increasing the perceived control of creative outputs, developing and maintaining trust, providing more auxiliary support for coordination needs, and making more effective use of timing and time-zone differences. Likely impacts of remote collaboration in media production are: more overlap between pre-production, production, and post-production activities; faster work pace; enhanced creativity; and improved quality of work life.
  • Journal Article
    Expansive Visibilization of Work: An Activity-Theoretical Perspective
    (Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 36220) Engeström, Yrjö
    Work is commonly made visible along two dimensions: the linear and the socio-spatial. Both are limited to depicting work in terms of relatively discrete actions. Activity theory introduces the crucial distinction between collective activity systems and individual actions. Expansive visibilization of collective activity systems offers a powerful intervention methodology for dealing with major transformations of work. The linear and the socio-spatial dimensions of work actions are seen in the broader perspective of a third, developmental dimension of work activity. Four steps are identified in a cycle of expansive visibilization, combining activity-level visions and action-level concretizations. The cycle is examined in detail as it unfolded in an intervention study at a children's hospital in Finland. It is concluded that expansive visibilization, driven by contradictions and seeking to reconceptualize the object and motive of work, is not a straightforward process which can be neatly controlled from above. Coherent analytical explanation and goal-setting may come only after the creation and practical implementation of innovative solutions.