Parallels

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Aruna Balakrishnan, Tara Matthews and Tom Moran have a paper at CHI 2010 that examines how people used Lotus Activities to structure their interaction with digital artifacts and to help them collaborate. They observed 22 participants over the course of a couple of years to characterize their use of this tool.

Their findings bear interesting similarities to our CHI 2010 paper that described the use of various communication technologies in the workplace. Balakrishnan et al. report that their participants

…still used many different tools for the same group management and collaboration tasks (see survey results in Table 1). They also used different tools within individual activities (elucidated in the interviews).

In our study of communication tools (which Thea wrote about earlier), we found that over time, people increased their repertoire of communication tools, rather than replacing old ones as new tools became available. Our participants used different communications tools; Lotus Activities users commanded a similar diversity of writing and organization tools used for different purposes.

These papers provide evidence that system designers should heed: a proliferation of tools is indicative of a diversity of tasks, and tradeoffs among these task characteristics (ephemeral vs. persistent, lightweight vs. formal, etc.) are difficult to support with monolithic tools.