Unpacking the Origins of CSCW

More than one research paper starts by reflecting upon the ever increasing speed of technological development. Yet, many challenges posed by technology have been with us for a long time. Thus, re-reading studies from the early days of CSCW research can be intriguing. What were the challenges four decades ago? What has changed and what has not?

In the EUSSET Digital Library we have a special section devoted to an archive of early, unpublished material, aptly named the CSCW Archive. Here you will find a transcript of the seminal workshop held in 1984 that is seen as a the first CSCW event. In the introduction the participants briefly state their topic of interest which include AI, collaborative authoring, groupware and office automation but also topics such as coordination, negotiating change, teams and social structures–notably in office settings. 

Close to a decade later there is documentation from the three year COMIC project (1993-1995), obviously, by now the field had matured substantially and here can be found some now classic contributions to the CSCW domain. An important factor for this development was of course the ECSCW conference, which started a few years earlier, in 1989. Here you can among other things read about computational mechanisms of interaction and the relationship between the social analysis of work settings and system development.

Running almost in parallel to the COMIC project was the COST Action  on Cooperation Technology (CoTech). In the archive you can find the final report from the project, which had played an important role in fostering the development of the CSCW  community in Europe. CoTech involved around 60 institutions, and brought together more than a hundred researchers. It focused on seven research activities, spanning from augmented environments to the design and practice aspects of interdisciplinary research on cooperation technology.

All in all, many themes that are familiar to currrent research, although some of the buzzwords may have been replaced by new ones, in the those days multimedia was the answer without a question; today perhaps replaced by the idea of the multiverse

For a more in depth look at the origins of CSCW you can also read the paper Constructing CSCW: The first quarter century, by pioneers Kjeld Schmidt and Liam J. Bannon.

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