Science has always
been a form of what we now call "distributed knowledge
work." Scientists were among the first to recognize the
potential of emerging information and communication technologies.
For instance, electronic mail first became widespread within
scientific subcommunities. As additional networked tools became
available a more coherent vision has emerged of how technology-mediated
science can be conducted. By the late 1980s the concept of
a collaboratory was being discussed at places like the National
Science Foundation and the National Research Council. Collaboratories
were defined as a
center without walls,
in which the nationals researchers can perform their research
without regard to geographical location [Wulf, 1989].
The vision was that scientists who are geographically dispersed
could work together using appropriate technology to access
each other, remote tools, databases, and instruments (National
Research Council, 1993; Kouzes, Myers & Wulf, 1996; Finholt & Olson, 1997).
Over the past decade there have been a series of collaboratory
projects funded by NSF, DOE, NIH, and other agencies, some
successful and some less so. These projects provide us with
a base of experience from which we have begun to form generalizations
about the conditions for success. These projects have demonstrated
the promise of the vision. Indeed, it is feasible and useful
to use networks to link teams of people, data, tools, and
facilities to reduce the barriers of time and distance.
However, the design, deployment, and adoption of new collaboratories
remain difficult and uncertain processes. Each collaboratory
has been built as an independent effort. Since these efforts
involved complex responses to often idiosyncratic mixtures
of social and technical factors, general lessons about collaboratory
design remain elusive. The large effort required to produce
the first prototype collaboratories has not allowed careful
reflection about broader principles of collaboratory development.
These principles are needed to expand collaboratory use beyond
narrow application in a few scientific fields.
We seek to change this. We aim to define, abstract, and codify
the broad underlying technical and social elements that lead
to successful collaboratories. We seek to synthesize the vocabulary,
associated principles, design methods, and technical infrastructure
for propagating and sustaining collaboratories across a wide
range of circumstances. Our goal is for users with a need
for collaboratory infrastructure to be able to create successful
collaboratories on their own. An even more ambitious goal
would be to have collaboration capabilities become integrated
into the common infrastructure that any scientist could access
simply by being a practicing member of a relevant community.
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