These materials were assembled by the following
participants in the workshop: Matthew Bietz, Daniel Cooney,
Darren Gergle, Mark Handel, Larry Jacobs, Jim Myers, Huahai
Yang, and Xiaolong Zhang.
The workshop on July 19-20 was the
second in our series. It explored the technology underpinnings
of collaboratories, bringing together researchers and developers
from industry, academia, and government to identify, define,
and discuss the state of collaboratory technologies and the
state-of-the-art and state-of-the-practice in collaboratory
technology deployment. The goals were to capture lessons-learned,
identify current technology challenges, and lay the technology-related
groundwork for subsequent workshops and the overall project.
The Tools and Technologies of Collaboratories
As a pre-requisite for further discussion
in the workshop, participants were asked to compile a list
of tools and technologies relevant to collaboratories. The
list shows the breadth of applications, middleware, services,
technologies, and standards in use across collaboratory efforts.
In creating these lists, the groups questioned
the boundaries of collaboratories - can there be a collaboratory
of one, must members be separated by distance, are shared
resources (e.g. data or instruments) a requirement, is formation
of a new community a defining feature (versus supporting an
existing community), etc. While there was some disagreement
over whether specific extreme cases should be considered to
be collaboratories, there was agreement across a wide range,
which participants agreed is a contributing factor to the
broad range of tools in use and lack of agreement on a single
set of tools across the collaboratory development community.
While a mapping was not attempted, the
groups did identify several collaboratory-type-related dimensions
in which specific tools could be measured, e.g. number of
people who can be supported, or degree of formality in interactions.
Other dimensions, related more specifically to technologies,
were also identified. The combined
list shows again why simple 'best of' comparisons of tools
cannot be applied across all collaboratories.
Additional points discussed in this session
included the concept of collaboratory developers as systems
integrators. Some participants saw the inclusion of technologies
such as the telephone, email, and videoconferencing in the
list of collaboratory tools as evidence that collaboratories
represented a specific integrated use of more general tools.
Other participants emphasized the leadership role of collaboratory
developers in developing new tools, defining new work processes,
being early adopters of new technologies, and in innovating
through integration and concluded that systems integrator
did not capture the true scope. There was general agreement
that we are still at a point where collaboratory development
always includes elements of exploration.
here for detailed notes from the Tools and Technology session)
Needed by Collaboratory Users
Tools and technologies are deployed to
provide 'capabilities' to collaborators. During the second
breakout session, participants were asked to describe collaboratories
in terms of the users' goals and the (technology-independent)
capabilities they need to accomplish them. The motivation
of this exercise was to refocus participants on the end goals
of enabling collaboratory participants to work more effectively
and more efficiently, and to enable the subsequent discussion
of how well current and envisioned technologies map to the
participants created encompasses a wide range of functionality
and shows significant diversity in the level of abstraction
at which participants addressed the question, e.g. "LDAP
directory services" versus "resource information
services" versus "finding needed expertise".
As in the previous session, collaboratories were seen as exploratory
- as laboratories in which "chat" and "persistent
chat" tools might be replaced by functionality for "capture
and replay" of multimodal conversations and "summarization"
services as developers sought better ways to meet an underlying
requirement for recordable, reviewable conversations. Participants
identified high-level capabilities focused on user processes
(e.g. the capability to run an experiment) as well as capabilities
for tasks within these processes (e.g. the capabilities to
discuss experiment parameters, to tele-operate the instrument,
and to access data).
Many group conversations anticipated the
next breakout session and highlighted the difficulties involved
in using currently available tools - from issues of communicating
across firewalls and different operating systems, to the stand-alone
nature of tools, which limits integration. Some groups noted
a conceptual mismatch in using commodity tools, which target
common tasks and often work only on the most popular computing
platforms, in a scientific setting where discovery and constant
evolution of resources (instruments, data types, analysis
tools) and processes are fundamental to progress. Conversely,
technologies being created to support e-business across organizations
(e.g. XML, web services) were seen as very well aligned with
the needs for flexibility, integrability, and evolvability
in scientific collaboratories.
here for detailed notes from the Capabilities session)
The Technology Issues Facing Collaboratories
& Building a Collaboratory Technology Infrastructure:
Today and Tomorrow
Using the information from the first two
sessions, participants were asked to use the third session
to explore the mapping between technologies and capabilities,
and to make concrete recommendations for building collaboratories
that would become operational today and in 3-5 years.
Continuing the discussions from the previous
session, participants noted issues with specific implementations
of videoconferencing, chat, document sharing, and other tools.
There is clearly a need for such tools to continue to mature.
However, many of the most compelling visions of new capabilities
that would make distributed collaborations more natural and
more productive were not related to a specific tool, but rather
to the integration of many tools. Single sign-on, integrated
multimedia session records, awareness, persistent workspaces,
and information pedigrees were all cited as important next-generation
functionality that would be difficult to create using today's
collaborative tools. These in turn were seen as prerequisites
for research into knowledge management, agent-based automation,
etc. The development of collaboration middleware, and middleware-aware
tools, was seen as a key step in this evolution, though the
concern that such an approach would lead to a one-size-fits-all
mentality was also voiced. The chicken-and-egg issue related
to selling middleware and middleware-based tools was seen
as an argument in favor of an open source effort in this area.
From their experiences building collaborative
technologies and creating working collaboratories, the participants
distilled a number of guiding principles, most of which might
fall under the category of 'uncommon sense' - perhaps obvious,
but too often overlooked. There was general consensus that
current-generation collaboratories could now be built from
off-the-shelf technologies, both commercial and open source.
Looking into the future, web, XML, and Java technologies were
seen as having increasing influence, due to both the low barrier
to entry for browser-based tools and the emergence of increasingly
powerful development tools (e.g. application servers). In
both cases, new collaboratory developers were urged to focus
on the user - address the most critical collaboration needs,
provide sufficient training, take an iterative approach and
evolve technologies as user expectations and practices evolve,
etc. While much of the advice could apply to any software
project, suggestions to provide an independent 'back-channel'
for resolving technical issues with the primary communications
mechanism, to emphasize simplicity and ease-of-use since collaboration
may be episodic, etc. directly address unique aspects of collaboratories.
here for detailed notes from the Issues and Future session)
Community and Knowledge Base Discussions
A final recommendation - to become involved
in the 'collaboratory community' - addressed one of the motivating
issues for the Science of Collaboratories project and workshop
series. Collaboratories are being developed in a wide range
of science and engineering communities (and beyond) and research
into collaboratory-related technologies and work practices
is similarly spread across many disciplines. The workshop
participants concurred with the organizers that efforts to
coordinate these activities and to share lessons-learned would
be very valuable.
As part of the closing plenary session,
participants discussed ways to strengthen the emerging collaboratory
community - from email lists to collaboratory-focused special
journal issues, standardized evaluation tools, and a community
portal and knowledge base. Specific items within the discussion
included a review of relevant journals and conferences and
a presentation of initial work within the Science of Collaboratories
project to develop a comprehensive questionnaire to capture
various aspects of a collaboratory project - scope, focus,
technologies, maturity, etc. - as part of an effort to build
a community knowledge base.
here for detailed notes from the Knowledge Base and Community