Social and Psychological Processes in Networked Environments:

Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Model

Dissertation Research Proposal

Lee Li-Jen Chen
October 14, 1995

Table of Contents

    1. Background and Motivation
    2. Objective and Investigative Approach
    1. Sociology of Science and Models of The Scientific Enterprise
    2. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Human Factors
    3. Collective Awareness
    4. Living Systems Theory
    1. Identify the Preliminary Framework for Investigation
    2. Analysis of Internet Tools and Services
    3. Survey
    4. Formation of Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Model
    5. Evaluation of the Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Models
    6. Simulation Model
    7. Pilot Study
    8. Awareness Maintenance System Design and Implementation
    9. Tracking Diffusion Process of Awareness Maintenance System
    10. 0Observational Study
    11. 1Assessment and Writing Up Results
    1. Motivation
    2. Literature Survey
    3. Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Modeling
    4. Pilot Study
    5. System Design and Implementation of Awareness Support System
      1. System Design of a Awareness Support System
      2. System Implementation of a Awareness Support System
    6. Evaluation of the Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Models
      1. Diffusion Study
      2. Observational Methodology and Design
        1. Studied Communities
        2. Observational Design
      3. Data Collection
      4. Data Analysis and Simulation Model Verification
      5. Discussion
    7. Conclusion


1.1 Background and Motivation

The recent phenomenal growth of the Internet presents a stimulating avenue for research in Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), especially for research into how social and psychological processes operate and structure in networked environments of various sizes and configurations (e.g., local research networks, global scholarly communities). The development of World Wide Web (the web) and the growing availability of collaborative tools and services on the Internet have expedited innovated knowledge creation/dissemination infrastructures, such as: digital journals, electronic libraries (Gaines, 1993), resource discovery environments (Bowman, Danzing, Manber & Schwartz, 1994), co-authoring systems (Baecker, Nastos, Posner & Mawby, 1993) and virtual scientific communities (Schatz, 1991). Hence, one of the major motivations behind the current proposed research is to investigate the psycho-sociological nature of distributed collaboration among networked members of different types of `work groups' who use the Internet/web not only as a communication medium, but also as an integral part of their working environments.

A fast evolving segment of the Internet, the web was originally conceived and developed at CERN for the purpose of assisting and facilitating collaborative interactions among high energy physicists, working at various institutions in different countries, to conduct joint research projects (Berners-Lee, Cailliau, Luotonen, Nielsen and Secret, 1994). Since 1993, it has diffused in a phenomenal rate from its origin and gradually has subsumed various popular Internet communication services such as: USENET Newsgroup, Electronic Mail.

The popularity of the web can be attributed to its emergent growth property: the ability for a new state of being to emerge naturally from a synergy among existing systems. The web is structured such that if it was used independently for two projects, and later relationships are found between the projects, then no major or centralized changes have to be made, but the information can be linked to represent the new state of knowledge. This property of emergent growth has allowed the web to expand rapidly from its origins at CERN across the Internet irrespective of national or disciplinary boundaries. Hence the dynamics of the web are based on three fundamental notions: (i) computer-supported cooperative work; (ii) hypermedia; and (iii) trans-boundary, emergent growth.

However, the growth of the web, while creating a rich new resource, also creates problems of information overload. The management of the diffuse communities collaborating through the web raises human factors issues going beyond those of the coordination of smaller, goal-directed groups with well-defined roles and tasks. For example, what are the responsibilities of information providers in supporting users of whom they are unaware, and who may be using the information in very different ways from those originally envisioned? The web supports the collaborative activities of small work groups, but it also supports those of well-defined scholarly sub-disciplines, and those of the much less defined community at large. To study and support collaborative activities on the web, we need a conceptual framework that identifies the major distinctions between `work groups' of widely differing sizes and structures, and between the various roles that originators, retrievers, and intermediaries can play.

One of the major problems of collaboration on the web and of a common thread through the current proposed research is that of maintaining awareness between remote research partners when changes occur in one location that affect activities in another. Such situational awareness (Norman, 1993) is an important issue for supporting task-oriented collaborative projects of research groups or organizations. At the other end of spectrum, the issue of locating where specific information resource is on the web, i.e., resource awareness has become important for supporting the research community at large. Group awareness (Smith, 1994) is essential to provide smooth coordination among members in a collaborative project team. By extending the notion of group awareness to community awareness, the Internet, as a global collective system, has become an emergent CyberSociety (Jones, 1995) that transcends the traditional boundaries of both physical and social communities.

1.2 Objective and Investigative Approach

My main research concern has broadened from an original emphasis on the social dynamics of small, cohesive collaborative groups to the studies of loosely, distributed collaboration among remote scientists/scholars on the Internet, then finally widen to how networked communities at large function in general. After all, the majority of the growing traffic on the Internet is now non-academic in nature and often involves the sense of playfulness or flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). Hence I have begun to examine common communication services/environments of the Internet such as: electronic-mail (e-mail), USENET newsgroup, Listserver, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), Multi-User Dimension (MUD) and the web. These popular services and environments have collectively fostered the formation of emerging virtual communities on the Internet (Reid, 1991). A better understanding of their underlying mechanisms in respect to the social system involved in the scientific enterprise (Merton, 1969; Crane, 1972; and Blume, 1974) would contribute to the knowledge about social and psychological processes in networked scientific communities. Here, scientific/scholarly collaboration through the Internet would act as a reference model in the development of a generalized conceptual framework for social and psychological processes in networked environments. Such a generalization is in accord with Kelly's (1955) observation that many cognitive processes utilized by scientists are not necessarily their own private preserve, but almost everyone else uses them as well.

Keeping the eventual generalization in mind, some interesting questions and issues concerning scientific/scholarly collaboration on the Internet are:

Here, I propose to investigate the nature of the emerging virtual communities on the Internet from the living systems perspective (Miller, 1978; Tracy, 1989). Csikszentmihalyi's (1990) concept of flow as the phenomenon underlying the psychology of optimal experience would be useful to modeling user satisfaction with networked environments like the web. In terms of the communication and coordination aspects of the virtual scientific/scholarly communities, rhetoric theory (Hauser, 1986) and organizational theory (Tracy, 1989; Littlejohn, 1992) would provide appropriate theoretical constructs. The application of enterprise modeling and workflow analysis on the work processes of various scientific/scholarly communities would help to reengineer the workflows (Hammer & Champy, 1993) of the scientists to take the advantages of the networked information technology.

The current proposed research will utilize a taxonomy of collective awareness (see subsection 2.3) and will examine how the awareness maintenance support systems together with various existing communication services on the Internet can fit into an overall conceptual framework inspired from the collective intelligence model and living systems theory. One special interest of the research will be on the examination various issues relating to "awareness of changes" in different working environments. The focus there will be on chronological awareness, that is, the awareness of when something (an event or an artifact) has changed. Members of a group may be interested to know someone has modified an artifact, or when a new (and potentially relevant) artifact has been created.

After identifying relevant constructs for investigative framework and an initial analysis of the existing tools and services on the Internet, I will propose an integrated conceptual framework for the emerging virtual communities in order to be able to explain the socio-psychological dynamics of various forms of collaboration on the Internet. The conceptual framework will need to model the relationship between the interaction of the individuals and their networked environments (i.e., human-computer interaction) and the interaction of the individuals and their virtual (scientific) community (i.e., person-community interaction). In addition, the conceptual framework should be able to assist the design and development of new Internet services and systems that foster collective awareness in the emerging virtual communities.

One measurement of the effectiveness of the conceptual framework is on its ability to generate theoretical models which can be evaluated by computer simulation, empirical investigation, and practical utility (e.g., generate design criteria for future system designs). A better understanding of computer-mediated work-flow processes can be obtained by conducting social-network analyses (Wellman & Berkowitz, 1988) and by using the SYMLOG observational approach (Bales & Cohen, 1979; Losada, Sanchez, & Noble, 1990) adjunct with time-series analysis (Suen & Ary, 1989) on communication patterns of specific Internet services (e.g., Listserver) used by networked `work groups'. Those observational results will be useful for identifying parameters in the theoretical models and for further fine-tuning of those mathematical models. A good reference for developing diffusion models of information resource is the evolution of cultural transmission model (Boyd & Richerson, 1985) from mathematical biology.

Therefore, a major contribution of the current proposed research will be the development of a conceptual framework that would assist the understanding of the social and psychological processes involved in networked environments. In addition to offering criteria for future system design, the conceptual framework allows the construction of theoretical models that facilitate computer simulation and further empirical investigation.


The current work is concerned with the formation and the investigation of conceptual framework for studying on-line (virtual) collaboration on the Internet. The focus here is for a better comprehension of the sociological and psychological dynamics involved when members of `work groups' collaborate with one another supported by the networked information technology. This work therefore surveys the literature on sociology of science, on computer-supported cooperative work and human factors, on collective awareness, and on the living systems theory as foundations for the conceptual framework.

In the following subsections: (i) the social system of collaborative work processes of scientists and scholars are used as a reference model for developing a general conceptual framework for social and psychological processes in networked environments; (ii) CSCW research focuses on assisting people to work collaboratively as a cohesive team through the used computer technology; (iii) by considering collective awareness from a functional point of view, one may be able to construct cognitive artifacts that enable groups to achieve the characteristics that are valued most highly in of human intellectual work (e.g., coherence, consistency, correctness, and elegance); and finally, (iv) the concept of "system levels" in the living systems theory provides an overall conceptual framework for the Internet that focuses on the dynamic interactions between individuals, groups, organizations and communities.

2.1 Sociology of Science and Models of The Scientific Enterprise

The sociology of science is sometimes defined as a part of the sociology of knowledge, and yet the multifaceted problem of the relationship between knowledge and reality is more general one, at the heart of the larger part of sociology. In Merton's (1973) work on the ethos of science-- "the emotionally toned complex of rules and presuppositions that are held to be binding upon the scientist", the focus has shifted to the explicit concern of science as a social institution rather than a type of knowledge. He describes the normative notion of science as (i) a set of characteristic methods by means of which knowledge is certified; (ii) a stock of accumulated knowledge stemming from the application of these methods; (iii) a set of cultural values and mores governing the activities termed scientific; or (iv) any combination of the forgoing (Merton, 1942).

The institutional goal of science is therefore the extension of certified knowledge. The technical methods employed toward this end provide the relevant definition of knowledge: empirically confirmed and logically consistent statements of regularities (i.e., predictions). The institutional imperatives (mores) derive from the goal and the methods. And four sets of institutional imperatives-- universalism, communism, disinterestedness, organized skepticism-- are taken to comprise the ethos of modern science (Merton, 1942). The basic idea of interaction between the normative structure and the reward structure of science provides a suitable foundation for the understanding of science as a social institution. Such interaction results in: (i) the vigorous competition between scientists for the recognition of priority for scientific discovery (Merton, 1957; Merton, 1969); and (ii) "the Matthew Effect", that is, the enhancement of the position of already eminent scientists who are given disproportionate credit in cases of collaboration or of independent multiple discoveries (Merton, 1968).

One major institutional device for the competent appraisal of the quality of scientific work is the referee system (which derived from the norm of universalism). By tracing the evolution of the referee system from its origin, a better understanding of the process institutionalization in science can be achieved. Various factors are involved in the referee processes, such as: evaluative behaviour of editors and referees; status differences in submission of manuscripts and in rates of acceptance; patters of allocation to judge; and age structure in science (Zuckerman & Merton, 1971; Zuckerman & Merton, 1972). Those institutional factors must be taken in to account if an information technology wishes to find wide acceptance by scientists and scholars.

In terms of the social dynamics involved in scientific growth, Kuhn's (1962) analysis of scientific change combines periods of continues cumulative growth (normal science) with periods of crisis or revolution. In this view, "normal" scientific activity in a research area is guided by a paradigm that defines the fundamental problems. The attention of scientists is directed toward these problems exclusively. As a result, scientific knowledge grows in a systematic fashion, building upon previous work. In times, however phenomena that the paradigm cannot explain become increasingly important. When these anomalies can no loner be ignored, the field goes through a period of crisis while the old paradigm is under attack and a new one is sought. A new paradigm is generally resisted, particularly by older scientists, until it has proven its superiority (Crane, 1972).

It has been shown that exponential growth of a scientific research area reflects a social interaction process in which contact between scientists contribute to the cumulative growth of knowledge . The shift to exponential growth is marked by the appearance of new groups of scientists within the research area. These groups of scientists can be described from two points of view: (i) their structural aspects: who is linked to whom by sociometric ties; (ii) their normative aspects: the types of attitudes and behaviour that are expected of their members (Crane, 1972). There are two distinct types of subgroups. One type consists of groups of collaborators. For instance, the entire set of scientists in a field may form numerous non-intersecting subgroups of various sizes. The larger ones contain a few very productive scientists and many relative unproductive ones (based on published papers). Studies have shown that these groups are linked to one another through their leaders who communicate with each other and transmit information informally across the whole field (Mullins, 1968). This enable them to monitor the rapidly changing research "front" and to keep up with new findings during a period of rapid growth. Thus the second type of subgroups in a research area is a communication network or "invisible college" that link groups of collaborators (Crane, 1972). This "invisible" communication network is informal in its nature that is contrast to the formal communication channel such as the refereed system. It appears that the large groups of collaborators and the communication network that link them play very different roles in the development of the area. Under the leadership of one or two scientists, the groups of collaborators recruit and socialize new members and maintain a sense of commitment to the area among members, thus the formation of "solidarity groups" (Mullins 1968).

Concern with the speed and efficiency of scientific communication among scientists has produced a number of innovations designed to accomplish these goals. Some involve reorganizing the communication pattern within research areas: (i) changes in some aspect of the formal communication system, such as the creation of a new type of communication outlet or information service, including the replacement of the informal circulation of papers in advance of publication by a formal system that would accomplish the same purpose; (ii) improvements in arrangements for oral communications; (iii) replacement of the formal circulation if papers in "pack-ages" in the form of journals by a system of selective dissemination tailored to the needs of the individual scientist; and (iv) devices to support the scientist's personal search of the literature such as by computerized information retrieval system. The first three types of innovations are primarily designed to increase the "visibility" of materials in the scientist's own research areas. The fourth would aid the scientist locating materials in other areas (Crane, 1972).

Blume (1974) has examined social systems of science. Sociologists use the term, social system, to stress pattern of interaction between individuals characteristics of the system in question, recognizable, and not subject to unanticipated change. Maintenance of these characteristic patterns of actions is inductive of their mutually rewarding nature for participants. The permanence of social systems and of economic, religious and other subsystems indicated that the rewards received by participants in response to prescribed behaviour are unchangingly desirable and obtainable. Some sociologists have emphasized the "exchange" element in the operation of social systems. Thus the question becomes: what is the precise nature of the commodity of science: what do scientists contribute to the scientific community, for which they expect reward?

Some sociologists view the contribution of information as crucial, although such information must be original for the higher rewards. Merton (1957) emphasized the importance of originality and the significance of establishing one's own priority in making a discovery. Because originality alone is rewarded, priority disputes are necessary for maintenance of the scientific system. They also produce neurotic anxiety in scientists, and deviant patterns of secretive behaviour (Merton, 1969; 1973). Therefore, the information exchange process can also be viewed in terms of "communication". Hence the issue of responsibility for maintaining communication becomes important. For example, a researcher needing some information has to determine if the effort required to find out if that information is on the Internet is greater than or less than the effort required to find it in other sources or to regenerate it. Similarly, a provider of information resource has to determine how much effort should be put into making it accessible to others for the dissemination process.

2.2 Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Human Factors

CSCW research focuses on assisting people to work collaboratively as a cohesive team and providing them with a sense of common purposes (e.g., completion of the group task). For example, Landow's (1990) In Memoriam project utilizes hypertext's freedom of navigation and linking ability to break down physical separation and the univocal voice of textual conversation. In so doing it creates a new awareness of the processes of collaborative learning and collaborative work for group members in literary studies. Ishii and colleagues (Ishii and Miyake, 1991; Ishii and Kobayashi, 1992) have created a fusion of video and computer workspace to provide a seamless working environment with remote workstations, in order to provide mutual awareness between distance collaborators in real-time. Olson and Atkins' (1990) NSF EXPRES Project uses intelligent, multimedia email to facilitate cooperation within scientific and engineering community by increasing researchers' awareness about each other's work. Gutwin and Greenberg's (1995) group awareness widgets for desktop conference provide basic toolkits to construct groupware that help tele-conference participants to be aware of: each other's focus when their views are separated; others' task activities in shared and separate view situations; and the history of group activities. One application of those awareness widgets is to providing "workspace awareness" in collaborative learning, i.e., the up-to-the-minute knowledge of a learner requires about other learners' interactions with the shared workspace (Gutwin, Stark, & Greenberg, 1995).

A critical requirement in shared tasks is maintaining situational awareness (Norman, 1993) by keeping everyone adequately informed. In an environment where each member has a well defined role, the need to have face-to-face communication in order to perform a cooperative task becomes less necessary if mechanisms for situational awareness have been well established between members. For example, the navigation of a large ship requires effective coordination of various people with differing roles (Hutchins, 1990). Many key members of the navigation team (conning officer, plotter, bearing takers, deck log keeper, bearing-timer recorder and fathometer operator) are geographically separated (pilot house, chart house, and port and starboard wings) and communicate with each other by a common telephone circuit. The common audio channel and the physical layout of the pilot house provide opportunities for the navigation crews to observe each other's work, contributing to partial redundancy in their joint knowledge. They also support maintenance of the group over time to provide fault-tolerance if some group members fail to perform their roles.

Thus, one of the important criteria for achieving group cohesiveness is not the opportunity of being in constant face-to-face communication, but rather the situational awareness of what other group members are doing. It can be achieved through either face-to-face (as on the pilot house) or telephone communication (as between the port and starboard wings). Together the functional specificity of the crews and the cognitive artifacts that facilitate situational awareness (e.g., the single telephone circuit, the pilot house with high visibility among navigational team members) can create an effective collaborative system.

The emphasis on the importance of social interaction and cognitive artifacts (such as the telephone circuit described previously or the web) as the means to enhance human capabilities has also been echoed by Norman (1991). A cognitive artifact is defined as "an artificial device designed to maintain, display, or operate upon information in order to serve a representational function." The power of a cognitive artifact comes from its function as a representational device. However, capabilities artifacts do not actually change an individual's abilities. Rather, they change the nature of the task performed by the person. When the informational and processing structure of the artifact is combined with the task and the informational and processing structure of the human, the result is to expand and enhance cognitive capabilities of the total system of human, artifact, and task.

Hence, when designing a computer-supported collaborative system CSCW researchers need to keep the representational aspect of the whole system in mind. A system designed with this holistic perspective in mind can provide tools that enhance communication, coordination and social interaction capabilities. Therefore, the collaborator's intentions can be easily transferred to each other and common goals can be achieved with mutual satisfaction. In the various studies described above, situational awareness has acted as an important coordination mechanism among collaborative groups.

Recently, Hoffman and Novak (1995) have applied a model of flow phenomena in user interaction with the web. Flow-- the process of optimal experience-- in a hypermedia computer-mediated environment (CME) is achieved "when a sufficiently motivated user perceived a balance between his or their skills and the challenges of the interaction, together with focused attention" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

One possible explanation for the growing popularity of Net Surfing may be that such playful activity provides users a great sense of satisfaction. It is a state in which a motivated user undertake a task whose level of difficulty is at some particular level that suits their individual needs. Too low a level results in boredom and too high a level in anxiety, and the optimal level results in the intense satisfaction with the flow activity.

Network navigation on the web makes optimal experience easier to achieve, because it has rules that require the learning skills, developing goads, providing feedback, and making control possible. Flow formalizes and extends a sense of playfulness, incorporating the extent to which, in the hypermedia environment, web users: (i) perceive a sense of control over their interactions in the environment, (ii) focus their attention on the interaction, and (iii) find it cognitive enjoying. When in the flow state, irrelevant thoughts and perceptions are screened out and the users' attention is focused entirely on the interaction (Hoffman & Novak, 1995).

2.3 Collective Awareness

In a dynamic environment where large amounts of information are created and updated frequently, the need to keep up with the most up-to-date and relevant information has become more important as the Internet community expands. In terms of group collaboration, to be aware of changes is one of the fundamental requirements for coordination and for providing a sense of connectedness.

Some of the characteristics of human intellectual work that are valued most highly are: coherence, consistency, correctness, and elegance. It is difficult to imagine how work with these attributes could be produced without that structure of ideas having been held in its entirety by a single mind-- if not actually produced by that mind (Smith, 1994). As stated previously, however, by considering awareness from a functional point of view, one may be able to construct mechanisms that enable groups to achieve comparable result. Web pages (in addition to FTP archives, Listservers, etc.) are becoming the primary means for information dissemination on the Internet, and these web pages are being constantly updated to reflect members' current states of knowledge on their portions of collective memory.

Recently, Smith (1994) has proposed a collective intelligence theoretical model that provides a holistic perspective on the nature of computer-supported intellectual collaboration. It focuses primarily on project groups and/or relatively small, close-knit teams within larger groups in designing/creating artifacts (e.g., committee reports, computer software). He calls such a group-artifact-task arrangement, artifact-based collaboration (or ABC). His comprehensive model takes into account cognitive processes within individuals, artifacts to-be-built, and situated actions.

Using human self-awareness model and cognitive Information Processing System (IPS) architecture (Newell and Simon, 1972; Newell, 1982) as references, two analogous forms of awareness can be identified for collective groups: awareness of the group's collective long-term memory (LTM) and awareness among and of each other.

Smith (1994) describes a taxonomy of group awareness (what he calls collective awareness) based on the collective intelligence model. The model identifies three forms of awareness with respect to a group's Long Term Memory:-

  1. close, detailed, deep awareness of particular segment of the artifact;
  2. less detailed, but still substantial, peripheral awareness of the artifact's adjacent parts;
  3. the much thinner, global awareness of the artifact as a whole that is shared by the entire group.
A different kind of awareness is the awareness members have of one another. This category of awareness is closer to the notion of situational awareness described earlier in Subsection 2.2. The model identifies three forms of awareness among members of one another:-
  1. cognitive-guide-map like, resource awareness for locating specific knowledge and expertise among the group members;
  2. emotional, but rationalized, task-socio awareness concerning social and political dynamics within the group in relation to the artifact/task.
  3. and more situational, chronological awareness about when, what, and by whom something in the collective system is changing.
The above collective awareness taxonomy provides a useful starting point for an overall conceptual framework for the Internet. One of the objectives of the proposed research will be to investigate the awareness maintenance mechanisms involved in supporting collaboration on the Internet.

2.4 Living Systems Theory

Living systems theory is the life's work of James Grier Miller (1978). The basic systems theory was built upon a search for the common properties of all living systems. Miller's theory of living systems goes beyond general and open systems theories in describing the vital systems and processes inherent in cells, organs, organisms, groups, organizations, communities, societies and supranationals (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Levels of Livings Systems and Nonliving Environment

Communities (or groups, organizations) are open systems. That is, a community maintains a relatively stable structure and boundary while receiving inputs from the environment, processing them, and extruding outputs. The human components of organizations-- individuals and groups-- are also open systems. Furthermore, these open systems are composed primarily of living entities-- cells, organs, and organisms (Tracy, 1989).

Viewed from this open systems perspective, the Internet and its user communities can be considered as the integral parts of a cybernetic living system at the meta-community level. Therefore it is natural that living systems theory should be applied to the understanding of the emergent virtual communities and their social and psychological behaviours. Such collective ensemble of the person-machine-environment triad can be conceptualized as a cross-over between CyberSpace (Benedikt, 1991) and Virtual Communities (Reid, 1991). Within the context of the Internet, the main focus here is on four levels: organism (i.e., individual), group, organization, community of living systems theory (the shaded areas in Figure 1).

Originally, the book Living Systems (Miller, 1978) presented 19 basic subsystems at seven levels, and since then, James Grier Miller and his long time collaborator and co-author Jessie L. Miller, have added a 20th subsystem, the timer, and eighth level, the community (Miller and Miller, 1990; Miller and Miller, 1992). The community level was added between the organization and the society (Figure 1). The timer subsystem was added to the original list of nine information-processing subsystems, making a total of 10 (not counting the boundary and reproducer, which process both information and matter-energy). The twenty subsystems (shown in Table 1) are responsible for the ongoing day-to-day operation of the living system, it is these subsystems which keep the system alive (Bailey, 1994).

Table 1 Criticial Subsystems

The survival and health of individuals, groups, organizations, communities, and societies depend on performance and coordination of a set of essential processes. In all, LST identifies twenty critical subsystems carrying out these processes at every level. For example, a channel and net subsystem to convey information from one part of the system to another was found to be necessary in cells as well as societies. The nature of that subsystem might vary but the function remained the same (Tracy, 1989). Some critical subsystems process matter-energy, some process information, and some process both.


This section sketches out a detail outline of different stages of the research to be undertaken. Each of the sub-sections roughly corresponds to the flow of chapters in the dissertation. However the order of presentation does not necessarily indicate an actual execution-flow of the research in a strictest sense, since some later stages (e.g., simulation studies) may require modifications of the works done at some previous stages (e.g., theoretical modeling).

3.1 Identify the Preliminary Framework for Investigation

During the first stage, a preliminary investigative framework will need to be identified. The current work attempts to investigate the Internet from a perspective which characterized it as an open, dynamic system of inter-connected machines, users, and resources. Therefore, various constructs involved in networked computing environments, individual cognitive processes, social systems, and information retrieval/transmission need to be identified and explored for their inter-relationships.

For instance, the construct of "system levels" in the living systems theory provides an overall perspective for studying the Internet with a focus on the dynamic interaction between individuals, groups, organizations and communities. Within this perspective, individuals constitute the fundamental level of analysis in the overall system. Self awareness provides a sense of identity, purpose, and consciousness to each individual. When perceiving all levels collectively, the notion of self awareness can be extended to different hierarchical partitions in the system for the purpose of analyzing the inter-relationship between the overall system and its parts in the collective stance (Gaines, 1994). Hence, collective awareness occurs at every level above the individual level in the system hierarchy. In order to function as a coherent whole, mechanisms for maintaining awareness in the group, organization and community levels will need to exist first. Currently there are various tools and services on the Internet/web that have emerged to fill the roles of providing awareness maintenance for various levels.

3.2 Analysis of Internet Tools and Services

During this stage, I will conduct a preliminary analysis of various existing collaborative mechanisms on the Internet (and on the web). The analysis should be guided with a sociometric perspective that encompass the normative structures and the reward systems of the scientific enterprise in mind. Such an analysis allows a better grasp on the scope of the current investigation and assist the formation of a conceptual framework for the Internet.

At the end of this stage: a set of taxonomies detailing various existing Internet services in relation to the objectives, norms, and workflows of the scientific enterprise will be produced. In the cases where no services exist for particular objectives, norms, and workflows, a list of future service criteria will be outlined.

The results from the analysis will adjoin work already undertaken in respect to four dimensions of methodological framework for analyzing awareness maintenance support systems on the Internet (to be discussed in a later subsection).

3.3 Survey

At this stage, I will survey the literature on sociology of science, on computer-supported cooperative work and human factors, on collective awareness, and on the living systems theory as foundations for the general conceptual framework. This survey is sketched in Section 2 of this proposal and will form Chapter 2 of the dissertation.

Additional literature from population biology; particularly in respect to mathematical ecology and epidemiological models will also be surveyed if they are found to be useful for the development of theoretical models in later stages (for example, Boyd and Richerson's cultural biology; 1985). Furthermore, literature from information retrieval and information filtering may also be surveyed.

3.4 Formation of Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Model

During this stage, the formulation of the basic conceptual framework for the Internet collaboration will be outlined based on the analyses done in the previous stages. The conceptual framework generated here will attempt to address as many questions and issues proposed in Subsection 1.2.

As a start, a preliminary work has identified four main dimensions of design considerations for awareness maintenance artifacts for web users:

  1. Locus of Responsibility: Server-Side, Client-Side, or Centralized Dispatcher
  2. Level of `Work Group' Hierarchy: Group, Organization, or Community.
  3. Method of Locating Changes: Browsing vs. Targeting
  4. Complexity of User Interaction: Simplicity vs. Customization
The first dimension, the locus of responsibility, differentiates who is responsible for maintaining the record-keeping mechanisms for supporting awareness maintenance; the second dimension, the level of `work group' hierarchy, reflects the need for maintaining mutual awareness among members exist in various collaborative arrangements, and there are three main levels of awareness arrangements which constitute the awareness maintenance hierarchy; the third dimension, the method of locating changes, involves two different ways of locating documents that have been changed: browsing and targeting; and finally, the fourth dimension, the complexity of user interaction, denotes system usability in terms of simplicity vs. customization.

In particular the second dimension reflects the notion of system level from the living system theory (Miller, 1978) such that:

Toward the end of this stage, a general conceptual framework for investigating social and psychological processes in networked environments will be developed and various specific mathematical models will be derived to address issues such as: the rate of information diffusion in respect to awareness mechanisms, number of people in the social network, and other to be identified parameters; the threshold probability for individual to replicate information resource (as oppose to search for it) in relation to accumulative prior experience of success or failure in location similar resource.

3.5 Evaluation of the Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Models

This stage is closely coupled with the previous and the subsequent stages. The resulting conceptual framework and theoretical models will be subjected to six major evaluative criteria for any reasonable theoretical model derived from a sound conceptual framework (Gaines, 1989):
  1. Correspondence-- to what extent does the knowledge in the framework/model correspond to actuality?
  2. Application-- to what extent does the framework/model perform the intended task?
  3. Comprehension--- to what extent is the framework/model able to be reasonably understandable?
  4. Explanation-- to what extent is the framework/model able to explain its operations?
  5. Derivation-- to what extent can the framework/model derive its knowledge from well-established sources?
  6. Creation-- to what extent is the framework/model able to generate new knowledge?

3.6 Simulation Model

During this stage, various computer simulation models will be designed and their parameters identified based on the conceptual framework and mathematical models. Those simulation models will try to predict the effectiveness and usage patterns of particular Internet tools and services depending on different parameter settings. And the results of the simulations will later be compared with empirical investigation in the next stages. One of the objectives here will be the understanding of the mechanisms for awareness maintenance on the Internet. A simple example of the parameter settings would be the degree of availability or absence of various identified awareness mechanisms; then the diffusion rate of information resource will be manipulated.

Another example, the threshold probability for individual to replicate information resource (as oppose to search for it) in relation to accumulative prior experience of success or failure in location similar resource can be modeled.

One possibility, the two-armed bandit problem in decision-theory would be a nice starting point for modeling individual decision making process for determining whether to search for (exploration-- left arm) or to replicate (generation-- right arm) information resource. The question now becomes: "which arm should one plays?"

Assume one knows one arm pays an award of u1 (mu 1) with variance s1 (sigma 1) and other arm with u2 and s2 where u1 >= u2. Since one does not know which arm is associated with the higher expected reward-- u1(quicker completion with lesser cognitive effort), one must make a decision (in affect, a sequence of decisions) about which arm to play, but at the same time collect information about which is the better arm. This trade off between exploration for knowledge and the exploitation of that knowledge is a recurrent and fundamentally important theme in adaptive system theory (Goldberg, 1989).

Suppose one has a total of N trial to allocate among two arms. If one first allocates an equal number of trials n (2n < N) to each of the two arms during a experimental phase (i.e., prior experience). After the experiment, one allocate the reminding N - 2n trials to the arm with the best observed payoff. Assume we know N, u1, u2, s1 and s2, one can calculate the expected loss:

where q(n) is the probability that the worst arm is the observed best arm after n trials. This probability is well approximated by the tail of the normal distribution:

, where .

One of the optimal ways to allocate trials to the better arm would be trying to minimize expected losses. This results in the allocation of n* trials to the worse arm and N - n* trials to the better arm where n* is given by the following equation (Holland, 1975; 1992):


Although the above strategy is unrealizable, since it requires knowledge of outcomes before they occur, it nonetheless forms an important bound on performance that a realizable strategy should try to approach. Starting with the two armed bandit model, one could formulate and conduct a simulation model in which resource awareness mechanisms are gradually introduced to the decision making processes. In such scenario, the expected value for exploration would gradually increase as the resource awareness mechanisms are introduced to the overall system and the individual decision maker is made aware of them. Additional simulations could also be performed for the overall system in which multiple decision makers are involved (for example, in a collaborative environment). What are the possible patterns of the collective decision making process for determining an individual's probable choices between exploration and generation? If such patterns do in fact exist, what is the exact nature of the interactions among various factors such as individuals, awareness maintenance mechanisms, a group of cooperating individuals, and information flow within such a group?

3.7 Pilot Study

During this stage, a pilot study of how existing resource awareness mechanisms work on the Internet will be conducted. If the still to be developed conceptual framework and theoretical models are general enough, a `toy world' study which consisted of library search exercise would be conducted as an analogous model for performing fine tuning of computer simulations.

3.8 Awareness Maintenance System Design and Implementation

This stage will involve the design and the implementation of an awareness maintenance system for the web. Later, the finished system will be put on-line for by use the web community at large and by some targeted scholarly communities. Certain targeted communities will become the test-beds for detailed observational study of the effectiveness of the awareness maintenance system for coordination of work groups at the organizational level. The system integration phase will correspond to different parameter settings of some simulation models.

3.9 Tracking Diffusion Process of Awareness Maintenance System

This stage will require tracking of the pattern and the rate of the diffusion process of the awareness maintenance system on the web. This diffusion process, itself a resource awareness issue, will be measured and compared with the results from specific simulation models.

3.10 Observational Study

This stage will involve the collection of observational data about the communication and the usage patterns of some targeted on-line services by scientific and scholarly communities. The observational methodology design will use the encoding scheme as specified in SYMLOG (Bales & Cohen, 1979) for the interaction patterns and time-series analyses (Suen & Ary, 1989) for the usage patterns. The study will be targeting the Internet communication infrastructures (such as Listserver and hypermail) at the organization level of the preliminary investigative framework (see Subsection 3.4).

Listserver provides an intermediate service supporting selective dissemination of private information to members of specific interest-groups (such as sub-disciplines in science). It is in contrast to Email which supports private individual discourse and News which supports public broadcasting to major communities at large. The patterns of participatory interaction in Listserver merit much more detailed study than they have received today. In addition to statistical analysis of Listserver archives which offers insights to the distribution patterns of individual contribution, small group dynamics methodologies, like Bales' SYMLOG, provide analytical tools that focus on group as a whole. Communication patterns are divided among three major dimensions in the SYMLOG classification:

 Dominant -- Submissive         (Upward vs. Downward)     
 Friendly -- Unfriendly         (Positive vs. Negative)   
 Instrumental -- Emotional      (Forward vs. Backward)    

To identify a person's style of interpersonal behaviour, Bales has developed a 26 item rating list with sets of adjectives indicating each of 26 vectors derived from the SYMLOG three dimensional space. By combing the ratings of every members in a given group into scores on each of the three dimensions and plotting the results on a Field Diagram, images of interpersonal dynamics can be readily seen and analyzed.

Recently, Losada, Sanchez and Noble (1990) have conducted a study using computational time-series analyses based on the SYMLOG methodology to classify detailed observation of small group behaviour. The resulting analyses presented in graphical form, readily model the group's behaviour and show dysfunctional modes of operation. Similarly, the SYMLOG methodology applied to Listserver archives would provide empirical data and analyses on the interaction patterns of discourse in computer-mediated environment.

3.11 Assessment and Writing Up Results

Finally, the last stage will involve the analyses of the results in the previous stage. Here, various assessments will be made on the validity of the theoretical models and the effectiveness of the conceptual framework. Later, this stage will conclude with a write up of the final results from the current work and with some follow-up discussions. The main objective here will be the completion of the dissertation writing process.


The entire work is estimated to take approximately one and a half to two years to completion. I anticipate that the workflow between different stages to be non-linear; that is, it will be oscillating back and forth between many stages within various phases. Below is a tentative break down of the time schedule corresponding to various stages collected into phases:
Phases                                                        Months    Completion  

1. Preliminary Analyses of Constructs                          1        Nov. 95    
2. Survey                                                      2        Feb. 96    
3. Formation of Conceptual Framework and Theoretical           6        Aug. 96    
4. Pilot Study                                                 1        Sept. 96   
5. Awareness Maintenance System Design and Implementation      2        Nov. 96    
6. Evaluation of Observational/Simulation Results and          2        Feb. 97    
   the Framework /Models                                                              
7. Assessment and Writing Up Results                           3         May 97    


The following sub-sections constitutes a tentative chapters outline in the proposed dissertation. Chapter 1 and 2 correspond to sections 1 and 2 of the current research proposal, hence they are not elaborated in details.

5.1 Motivation

Chapter 1 of the dissertation corresponds closely to Section 1 of the present research proposal.

5.2 Literature Survey

Chapter 2 corresponds roughly to Section 2 of the current research proposal.

5.3 Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Modeling

As the main part of the dissertation, this chapter takes results and constructs from the previous chapter and proposes an integrated conceptual framework for networked environments. In particular, the proposed framework attempts to integrate sociological, psychological and political dynamics of the scientific enterprise. The conceptual framework then outlines some reengineering workflow models for collaborating scientists to take the advantages of the networked information technology. And from the conceptual framework, requirements for the awareness support systems are enumerated.

This chapter also lists the taxonomy of various types of collective awareness based on the collective intelligence model. Here also presents further analyses of Internet mechanisms involved in maintaining mutual awareness between collaborating individuals, groups, and communities.

Various mathematical models are derived from the conceptual framework to address issues such as: the rate of information diffusion in respect to awareness mechanisms, number of people in the social network, and other to be identified parameters; the threshold probability for self-replication of information resource (as oppose to search for it) in relation to accumulative prior experience of success or failure in location resource.

Computer simulation models and their parameters are formulated and identified based on the conceptual framework and mathematical models. For example, one special interest here will be on modeling awareness maintenance on the Internet.

5.4 Pilot Study

This chapter describes a pilot study on how existing resource awareness mechanisms work on the Internet/web will be conducted. And the results from the pilot study are presented here.

5.5 System Design and Implementation of Awareness Support System

This chapter describes the design of an awareness support system for virtual communities. The system design is based on requirements derived from the conceptual framework.

5.5.1 System Design of a Awareness Support System

Details of the system design are outlined here.

5.5.2 System Implementation of a Awareness Support System

Details of the system implementation and integration (for supporting the awareness maintenance in networked communities) are outlined here.

5.6 Evaluation of the Conceptual Framework and Theoretical Models

5.6.1 Diffusion Study

This section presents a observation study of the pattern and the rate of the diffusion process of the awareness support system on the web. This diffusion process is itself a resource awareness issue which will be measured and compared with simulation models.

5.6.2 Observational Methodology and Design

This section briefly describes the observational methodologies use in the current work, i.e., SYMLOG, Sequential and Time-series analyses, and explain the design of the observational study. Studied Communities

This subsection presents the background of the scholarly and scientific communities studied in the current work. [note: one or more of the following three communities will be considered for investigation, however the selection will be depending on the circumstance of the research at that stage.] Observational Design

Here, a detailed design of the observational study is presented, for instance: dependent and independent variables are listed and data collection methodologies are explained.

5.6.3 Data Collection

This section describes the processes of obtaining the observational data.

5.6.4 Data Analysis and Simulation Model Verification

This section presents an analysis of the results and compares them to the predictions made by the simulation models.

5.6.5 Discussion

This section discusses the evaluation of the conceptual framework and its corresponding theoretical models in respect to the observational study and the simulation runs.

5.7 Conclusion

The final chapter summarizes the conceptual framework and theoretical models presented in previous chapters and the results obtained from the observational studies and the simulation models. Here the utility of the conceptual framework is examined and new questions raised from the current research are explored. Finally, future research directions are proposed and the current work's contributions to the understanding of the Internet and to computing science are assessed.


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