Using the Computer to Communicate: Creating a Computerized Conferencing System on UNIX

Pearson, M.M.L. & Kulp, J.E. (1980). Using the Computer to Communicate: Creating a Computerized Conferencing System on UNIX. IIASA Working Paper. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: WP-80-159

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This paper discusses a computerized conferencing system being developed at our institute. The system, which we call Telecenter, is similar to others of its genre; using it one can create conferences, add participants, enter new conference comments, modify old comments, learn who has seen which comments in any given conference, get an overview of one's own status in all one's own conferences, and so forth.

Telecenter's current form, however, is not the topic of this paper. What we wish to address here is how and why Telecenter was developed. The "how" has to do with our UNIX operating system and is the subject of Part Two. The "why" has to do with our users and their needs and is addressed in Part One. Regarding both users and UNIX, we have tried to conform to certain general principles recognized by others involved in designing and implementing computerized conferencing systems, office automation and decision support systems. One result, we believe, is that we have made considerable strides with surprisingly few resources. For example, Telecenter itself was created with approximately one man-week's programming effort. This is noteworthy considering the usual requirements for developing such a system. Murray Turoff, a pioneer in the field of computerized conferencing writes in "The Network Nation":

"At the moment, most of the (computerized conferencing) systems that have been implemented represent many person-years of programming effort. There is no suitable higher-level language that allows a concise and appropriate specification of a human communication process. All current efforts at using FORTRAN, APL, BASIC, etc. are like describing a picture of the Mona Lisa in words only.... Currently we are beginning to understand the basic functions that characterize conferencing systems and it can be expected that a computer language will evolve that can allow these systems to be created in a few person-months of effort." (Hiltz and Turoff, p. 391)

The kind of higher-level language for human communication processes that Turoff speculates about has yet to be invented. Relevant to this statement, however, is the fact that software tools used to construct conferencing systems a few years ago are inferior to tools developed more recently. That Telecenter was made operational so quickly is primarily the result of its having been fashioned under an interactive and comparatively state-of-the-art time-sharing operating system, but it is also partly the result of our attitude toward user needs.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Working Paper)
Research Programs: General Research (GEN)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 01:47
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:09

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