Although there is already existing a lot of technologies
for supporting asynchronous cooperative work, like groupware
systems, still support for direct, synchronous collaborative
work remains an open field.
There is a great demand for tools supporting group sessions,
especially creative group sessions. Nowadays, such a session
is often accomplished using only paper and pencil. Therefore,
some problems arise, like the impossibility of continous work
with the results and the necessity for centralised, local
work, because all team members have to meet at the same place.
A computer based application for creative work could solve
these problems, but other challenges, like usability and acceptance,
will arise and have to be handeled.
Therefore we suggest a method allowing distributed same as
local group sessions, which is implemented and supported by
an application named "MetaChart". The approach aims at supporting
early stages of group based project work. These consist especially
of processes of generating new ideas and of modelling of basic
For supporting these highly creative stages of a project,
it is neccessary to build on a basic platform, which supports
synchronous work of the group. Every group member should have
access to the system on his own and every action done by any
member should be instantly visible and available to the other
The MetaChart approach is based on a few, basic elements.
First, there is a basic, graphical work interface, on which
the objects can be moved freely. Second, there are containers
(graphically represented as little, specialized windows),
called MetaCharts, which can contain any set of objects. These
MetaCharts are responsible for ordering and structuring ideas,
providing free alignment, hierarchical organisation and connection
of MetaCharts with other MetaCharts.
The content, like text, HTML links, pictures or any other
files, are shown in a window as well on the workspace. All
objects can be iconified and restored, which makes working
with this surface very similar to working with a common PC
environment. Once iconified, all objects show their type,
while in the de-iconfied state showing their content. All
changes, done on a specific item, are shared to all group
For better communication between the members of the group,
the programm includes video streaming and audio streaming
components. It can be used in a local, synchronous environment
(for better support of the results through group interaction)
same as in a remote or partly asynchronous environment. Traditionally
the highly creative period is always in a synchronous and
mainly local environment, although with the MetaChart system,
there is also the possibility to let remote members take part
of the session and refine results in an asynchronous manner.
For generating ideas, lots of conventional creativity methods
have been developed in the last decades. The MetaChart system
has been designed to support the process of generating ideas
and therefore, supports a couple of well-known creativity
methods. As first, in the metaplan mode, it supports the posting
of text cards which can be written by any participator, the
arrangement of these cards and a rating ability with a certain
amount of rating points owned by every participant. Other
supported methods are brainwriting, visual synektik, random
stimulation and mindmapping.
The tool provides basic mechanisms for modelling content.
Content can be grouped as themes in the MetaChart system,
and they can be correlated graphically to each other by visible
assoziations. Changes can not only be made by generating new
objects via menu, but also by drawing objects and their connections.
This method is especially useful when using hardware such
as pen tablets or tablet PCs. Gesture recognition algorithms
will identify manually drawn objects and their connections
and convert them directly into MetaCharts and their assoziations.
Every change made on the model will be instantly visible to
all the other group members. Pure synchronous work would be
possible, too, but tests show, that it often prevents the
session from developing further, if everyone works at the
same time with this open method.
MetaChart includes an approach composed of four stages to
support the early stages of idea generating until the late
stages of browsing and changing content:
- Data Generation: in the first stage, the focus lies mainly
on the generation of ideas and data. This stage is usually
a highly creative, synchronous stage.
- Data Structuring : after the initial generation of an amount
of data, the ideas found have to be structured. This is done
by using (untyped) associations as well as containment relations.
- Input of Content: in a third step, the types of data are
entered. For this purpose, a tree-based tool named MetaChartExplorer
is used for easy navigation through all objects in the session.
- Browsing and Data Re-Use: the fourth stage contains methods
for browsing the content. The content may also be exported
(as XML, XTM or RDF). In addition, the tool supports round
trip content engineering.
With its advanced collaboration, modelling and creativity
support capabilities, the MetaChart system provides the abilities
necessary for IT-based group sessions in the early projects
(based on Janssen, Doris; Schlegel, Thomas; Wissen, Michael; Ziegler, Jürgen:
MetaCharts - Using Creativity Methods in a CSCW Environment.
In: Proceedings of HCII 2003, Crete, Greece, 2003)