Our goal is to support collaboration among people and across systems as a fundamental element of interactive system design


Collaboration is ubiquitous yet is poorly supported by current computer systems. The personal computer was designed for single users and most current collaborative technologies, from e-mail to social networks, only support communication-based collaboration, where users exchange information and artifacts. With rare exceptions, sharing does not really mean sharing, it means sending a copy and losing control over it. We explore new ways to support collaborative interaction, especially within and across large interactive spaces, such as those of the Digiscope network.

The need for collaboration has never been so high, especially for extreme users. Some activities require combining the expertise of different users on well-defined tasks, such as analyzing scientific data, evaluating CAD models or scheduling complex events. Some activities require more flexible forms of collaborative interaction in order to improve creativity by brainstorming and combining ideas, such as product design, artistic creation or crisis management. Some activities require tight-loop collaboration, such as teaching or artistic performance, e.g. playing a concert with remote musicians. But because collaboration support is mostly an add-on to existing tools, none of the above examples can be conducted effectively today.

We believe that a paradigm shift as important as the switch from command-line interfaces to graphical user interfaces can occur if we make true sharing and collaboration a fundamental feature of the digital world. Just as graphical user interfaces demanded the creation of a new interaction style, namely direct manipulation, collaborative interfaces will demand the creation of new ways to support collaboration, in both real and deferred time, in both collocated and remote settings.

We have started to investigate how to support telepresence among large, heterogeneous interactive spaces. We also created Webstrates, an environment for exploring shareable dynamic media and the concept of information substrate. We plan to create novel collaborative systems that enable users not only to see the same artifact and to see each other, but also to act together. We will explore both the case where users interact together within the digital world, e.g. collaborative interaction on the same dataset, and the case where users interact together within the physical world through the computer, e.g. remote design or fabrication of physical objects.

We will take advantage of extreme environments to explore new ways to support collaborative interaction, especially within and across large interactive spaces such as those of the Digiscope platform. For example, by adding telepresence capabilities to large interactive spaces for remote collaboration, we expect to improve social presence and understanding of what each user is doing, therefore supporting richer interaction. We will also explore how to support rich collaboration and collaborative manipulation of tools or objects when users have different interaction capabilities either because they are using different devices in the same interactive space (distributed interaction) or because they are interacting from different interactive spaces (remote collaboration). Finally we will address the transitions among different collaboration modes, between real-time and deferred time, between co-located and remote collaboration, between collaborative and individual work.