Group Discussions

Group Discussions --- ?RonGoldman 14 Jan 2002

. . . NoManIsAnIsland and a major demonstration of this is the amount of time people spend talking to other people.

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Much that is important in our lives takes place in the context of a larger group, be it our family, our friends, or our work. We participate in group discussions and the conversation helps to create the group.

In our lives we participate in many ongoing discussions with our family, friends and coworkers. These conversations continue even when we are physically separated from each other. In the past they took place via notes, memos and newsletters. Today they make use of email, websites and other forms of textual electronic communication.

In the real world we gather together with other people in our homes, at work, or in public places. Online a website like is similar to the corner pub; we can go there and converse with the regulars. Weblogs and chat rooms provide a sense of place in the online world.

A very real difficulty in the real world is often finding people interested in discussing some specific interest. Maybe this is because it is difficult to find them in a large city, or maybe because someone is located in a remote place. The online world makes it easier for people to connect around common interests through newsgroups, communities connected with websites, or even mailing lists. As long as there's a way for people to search the net they can find online group discussions on topics they care about.

Places like Yahoo! Groups let anyone create a new group, complete with a mailing list, an archive of old messages, a place to store files, a group calendar of events, a way to see the list of members, and various other features. They supply the technology, you supply the initial community.

To borrow from "A Pattern Language" [Alexander et. al.], in the online world a good group discussion helps to create an (14) Identifiable Neighborhood, which in turn helps the Internet be a (8) Mosaic of Subcultures.


Provide good tools to support group discussions done over computers. Support both synchronous (chat, instant messaging) and asynchronous (mailing lists, newsgroups, weblogs) ways for people to carry on discussions. Make it easy for newcomers to locate and join the discussion.

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Be aware that SmallWorkGroupsComeAndGo and that the people in the group also come and go---EasyToUnsubscribe. Newcomers need access to previous discussion---KeepArchives and FrequentlyAskedQuestions. Provide ways to nurture the discussion, possibly creating a community---NurtureCommunity and QualityControl---Moderation,

Some discussions are private to a specific group and outsiders should not be able to join without permission. Some people may need to participate anonymously so they can be SafeToUse.

Workgroups --- RichardGabriel 23 Dec 2001

. . . NoManIsAnIsland, but even a well-designed and well-equipped textual electronic communications system is perhaps not adequate for all the needs of a person working in a group ...

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People work in groups all the time: in companies and other organizations, in meeting rooms, in the workshop, and in teams. Working in groups does not require working in physical proximity, because they will use their existing textual electronic communications systems to communicate with each other.

The programming language Common Lisp was designed by a committee of about 300 people beginning in 1981 almost entirely over email using an ad hoc mailing list maintained at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Since then, numerous working groups, program committees, and software development collaborations have taken place over the Internet, and a number of companies provide real-time collaboration tools for the Net. People will find a way to work together, and the advantages of the asynchronous nature of email-style of communications makes it ideal for very widely distributed (global) collaborations


Make the textual electronic communications system amenable to workgroups by such things as making it easy to create ad hoc workgroups, threading discussions, providing archiving facilities, and enable easy on- and off-ramps to workgroups.

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Be aware that SmallWorkGroupsComeAndGo (see also EasyToUnsubscribe); provide Archives (KeepArchives), AnnotatedMessages, and FlaggedMessages; pay attention to AwarenessOfPresence and be careful about AwayMessages; make it possible to work alone (GoAway) when necessary; be sure to account for people moving from place to place while still working in the workgroup (OnePersonManyMachines); be aware that come workgroups require a moderator (QualityControl---Moderation); consider that some people will want to take some conversations in a workgroup to the side (PrivateConversation---Encrypted); and finally, make sure that each person is sure that the communication is working (Notify User If Mail Has Been Read/Scanned---ReturnReceipt).


Last edited December 24, 2002
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