The Open Meeting:
A Web-Based System for Conferencing and Collaboration

Roger Hurwitz and John C. Mallery
Intelligent Information Infrastructure Project
Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Abstract: An asynchronous collaboration system was developed for Vice President AL Gore's Open Meeting on the National Performance Review. The system supported a large online meeting with over 4000 participants and successfully achieved all its design goals. A theory for managing wide-area collaboration guided the implementation as it extended an earlier system developed to publish electronic documents. It provided users access over SMTP and HTTP to hypertext synthesized from an object database and structured with knowledge representation techniques, including a light-weight semantics based on argument connectives. The users participated in policy planning as they discussed, evaluated, and critiqued recommendations by linking their comments to points in the evolving policy hypertext. These policy conversations were structured according to a link grammar that constrained the types of comments which could be attached in specific discourse contexts. Persistent actions enforced constraints on man-machine tasks, such as moderation workflow. Timely delivery of newly moderated comments kept the conversation gain at a level comparable to tightly-focused mailing lists threading out from specific points in the hypertext. After reviewing the architecture and performance of the system in this Open Meeting, the paper closes with discussion of lessons learned and suggestions for future research.

Keywords: Collaboration, Form Processing, HTTP, Information Access, Link Grammar, National Performance Review, Organization Theory, Persistent Actions, Semantic Network, SMTP, Surveys, Typed Links, URN, White House, World Wide Web.



A recent Open Meeting of several thousand Federal workers under the auspices of Vice President Al Gore demonstrated that the World Wide Web can support productive, wide-area collaboration for policy planning and problem solving. The collaboration system implemented for this meeting enabled the participants to find and discuss proposals for bureaucratic reforms, which had been prepared by the National Performance Review (NPR). The resulting policy conversations, which crossed traditional agency boundaries, mobilized support for the proposals, helped refine them and gave NPR feedback on their recommendations. The collaboration architecture was effective because it built upon a theory that identified the interactions needed for productive discussion and problem solving, and also, provided ways to reduce the obstacles to such interactions that arise with a large, dispersed group of participants.

After first describing the Open Meeting event, we examine the general theory it embodies as a guide for other wide-area collaboration applications. Next, we review the architecture of the system, and then, evaluate its performance during the Open Meeting. The conclusion offers some suggestions for refining the system and managing wide-area collaboration over the Web.

The Open Meeting Concept

The Open Meeting application implemented the idea that messages posted to an online discussion can be linked by a light-weight semantics into structured discourse and that the discourse can be modeled as extensible hypertext. The idea for the event itself originated with National Performance Review staffers, who sought an online meeting to disseminate and discuss NPR proposals for reinventing government operations. In their view, a successful meeting would involve several thousand workers, from a wide range of government organizations, who easily access texts relevant to their interests and link their comments in coherent, virtual conversations. The meeting would itself demonstrate a key element of these proposals -- the use of computer networks to coordinate policy planning and actions across traditional organizational boundaries. NPR recognized that the conventional technologies for online asynchronous discussion -- viz., listserve, newsgroups and electronic bulletin boards -- were not well-suited for such a meeting.

Our research group at the M.I.T. Artificial Intelligence Laboratory considered the meeting an opportunity to implement and test our ideas for managing public access and participation via the Internet in government inquiry and regulatory processes. In such processes, a government agency typically has its experts prepare proposals, and then, invites comments from its relevant public. This public, in turn, hires consultants to prepare briefs and speak at hearings. Because Internet use will broaden and cheapen access to these processes, it will dramatically increase the number of responses to the proposals, and consequently, subject agency officials to information overload. This undesirable result can be attenuated by intelligent routing that decomposes the comment stream by policy proposal and directs comments to the responsible officials.

In an initial public comment system, people would attach their views to documents under review according to the type of their comment. Officials would retrieve these comments by target and type from a database of review documents. Alternatively, the submitted comments could be matched against profiles that indicated the relevance of these categories for the individual officials. For officials reviewing public comments on a proposal the system functions as an annotation server, which enables them to retrieve specified types of comments on individual proposals. When users both receive and reply to one another's comments, it supports discussions that are composed of the typed and threaded comments.

The Open Meeting application was designed to deliver the necessary support for the meeting organized by the NPR staff. It would build on the Communications Linker System (COMLINK), which was developed as a publication system during 1992-1993 for handling subscription and distribution of documents, based on combinations of categories from a domain taxonomy [7]. The Open Meeting would extend COMLINK mainly by adding typed links between documents in the database.

Given the anticipated character of the meeting's textual environment, the web was a self-evident choice for data entry and display in the system, but the distribution of computer resources among the prospective users made email access as equally self-evident. In December, 1994, the time of the event, fewer than half the registrants had a web client and fewer still had clients which supported interactive forms through which comments could be sent to the server. Since all registrants had email, we provided both Web and email access, and as a result, we were later able to compare their respective effects on users' experience of and satisfaction with the meeting.


Together with NPR, we made several non-technological choices that affected the organization and interactions in the meeting. These choices concerned the proposals and background material to be included in the initial textbase, how their texts would be presented and the types of comments participants could make on these texts. To provide common grounds for discussions across organizational boundaries, we selected reports which NPR had recently completed about reinventing Federal operating systems, like procurement or information management, that are found in all federal government departments and agencies. Because the reports had the same generic parts, namely an Executive Summary, a set of Recommendations and attached enabling Actions, and Appendices on the implementations of the recommendations, the set was easily reconfigured into a hypertext. A standard node architecture maintained structural analogies across the main branches of the hypertext to simplify implementation and provide a consistent user interface. A root document, which presented the plan of the meeting, branched to eleven nodes, one for each operating system. The standard node included hyperlinks to the various parts of the reports and to additional relevant documents: an Overview of several paragraphs and reports of Promising Practices, that fulfilled recommendations for the system. During the meeting, Newsletters, which summarized the ongoing discussions, would be attached to their respective nodes (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Standard Node

Interestingly, the textual components of the standard node correspond to the generic parts of a strategic model or plan for reforming the operating system: The Executive Summary states the problem, the Recommendations propose solutions and means of obtaining them, the Actions describe tactics and the Promising Practices are example solutions. On this view, the conversations about these texts during the meeting are part of a problem solving process that generates refinements and evaluations as well as support for the proposed solutions (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Strategic Model

A recommendation in the Open Meeting environment is consequently an evolving document -- its own hypertext -- that can be represented by a page with hyperlinks to pages for its original text, the associated enabling actions and the comments in the discussion about it. (Figure 3). The header for each page includes the title, time of submission, author and a location-independent document identifier. To facilitate navigation, each page showed its context with anchors to the immediate parent and to pages summarizing related material. For email users, a text arrived embedded in a form with which one could order one or more the texts subsumed by the present text. A topic node form, for example, included the Overview text and an order form for the various parts of the report including the individual recommendations, listed by their titles.

Figure 3: One of ten NPR topic areas

Link Grammars

Comments in discussions are instances of conversational moves which appropriately reply to preceding comments. In ordinary conversation, speakers implicitly recognize these moves, their intentions, and their expectations of reply. In more stylized discussions, speakers often announce the type of statements they make, e.g., ``I have a question,'' to clarify their relation to a previous statement and to cue the expected type of reply. When comments are threaded through their targets, the identification of a conversational move indicates the relationships between otherwise opaque texts, and the sequence of typed conversational connectives indicates a flow of intentions and expectations.

What link-type grammar is appropriate for an online meeting? By grammar, we mean a set of rules that specify the admissible ways in which comments can be linked to an evolving hypertext based on their type and the context. These rules formalize the quasi-normative order of a conversation and prevent incoherent or inappropriate sequences. Such rules can be enforced at a dynamically reconfigurable interface which limits the choice of link type to those links that can be legally attached to the target comment.

The selection of link types and a composition grammar govern the character and development of knowledge in an online discussion. Conversations that permit only agreement or disagreement [1, 9] are more conflictual or stunted than those also permitting alternatives, examples given and questions and answers. Since the Open Meeting was convened to discuss policy and rule making, we wanted a set of link types that were familiar in policy debates, and that could express differences of opinion without polarizing participants. After careful consideration, we excluded simple endorsements of a proposal and motions that would call a vote, and narrowed the choices to Agreement, Disagreement, Question, Answer, (propose an) Alternative, Qualification (``yes, but''), or (report a) Promising Practice (Table 1). The Root document explained these types and asked Open Meeting participants to use this link semantics to frame their comments.

Certain institutional and logical conditions dictated the attachment rules in this grammar. Some NPR assertions has been vetted and were officially beyond debate; consequently, no comments could be attached to the Overviews, Executive Summaries, Appendices and Promising Practices. Second, it did not seem reasonable to comment on the Newsletter summaries of discussions. Third, other kinds of attachments, namely an alternative or qualification to a question, and an alternative to an alternative, answer or promising practice, were excluded for illogic.

Table 1: Open Meeting Comment Link Types
IconLink TypeDescription
Agree A reason to support the recommendation or action.
Qualify A qualification that explains exceptions or extensions for a recommendation or action.
Alternative An alternative way to implement a recommendation or action.
Disagree A reason to challenge why or how a recommendation or action can work.

Example A report of a promising practice that illustrates one good way to realize a recommendation.
Question A question about a recommendation or action.
Answer An answer to someone else's question.

Conversation Displays

An Open Meeting participant submits a comment on a commentable text (Recommendations, Actions, other comments) by editing the form attached to that text. The form captures the target's document identifier, lists the comment types that can be attached to the target, and provides queries for the comment title and text. The database creates a document object for the comment and uses the link information in generating a virtual page that displays the current state of the discussion.

The page includes a hyperlink to the recommendation and hyperlinks to the the comments, each listing the comment title, author, time of submission and link type, with the last indicated by a distinctive icon, as well as type name. These hyperlinks are displayed as a recursively indented outline, so hyperlinks that directly attach to the same target are below it, with the same offset. Hyperlinks to all comments in sequences and subsequences attached to one target are listed before the hyperlink to the next target. The layout (Figure 4) provides a synoptic view of the discussion.

Figure 4: A NPR recommendation, implementing actions, and linked comments


To minimize the posting of low quality, redundant and inappropriate comments, the Open Meeting was moderated. Moderators were assisted by administrative tools, which include moderation forms, canned response letters, virtual queues to allocate work, and a constraint-based view system. A moderator can use these tools to overview all submissions to the meeting, access unreviewed and otherwise pending submissions for a topic, rate a submission, accept it to make it visible, reject it, return it for revision, or defer a decision to another moderator (Figure 5). Moderation exploits the database support of views, since accepting a comment merely changes status of its visibility to the public (Figure 8). Views then are displays generated by constraints that determine what gets shown to whom. Although this interface generation idea can be used to apportion the textbase according to arbitrary criteria the Open Meeting employed only user and moderator views. Working with their view, moderators could see all submitted documents with their review status and could retrieve comments based on the quality ratings (Figure 6).

Figure 5: Moderator Review Form
Figure 6: Moderator Search Results for exceptional comments concerning the Department of Defense

Ancillary Pages

The Open Meeting environment included friendly interfaces for retrieval of particular text types and online help. A search interface supported retrieval of documents satisfying near boolean combinations of reinvention topic (node), link type and government organizations mentioned in the document text. Promising Practices and News interfaces enabled retrieval of hyperlinks to all the promising practices or newsletters by their reinvention topic. These were implemented by standing search URLs, which pointed to the search specifications for the required documents rather than the documents themselves and hence avoided the problem of updating hotlinks. A general help page listed hyperlinks to Vice President Gore's welcoming letter to the Open Meeting, to his memo authorizing federal workers to participate during work hours, and to various FAQs.

Wide-Area Collaboration

Wide-area collaboration refers to communication and coordinated action among groups that are large, geographically dispersed, and generally, do not know each other. These kinds of systems are distinguished from groupware oriented toward small groups precisely because the system must take over many tasks previously performed by people in small groups.

Knowledge-Level Techniques

If effective wide-area collaboration depends on a fine-grained decomposition of information structures and communications processes, it also requires a repertoire of knowledge-level techniques for structuring information fragments. Knowledge-level techniques refer to a continuum of approaches for organizing information packets based on their semantic or knowledge content.

Systems of categories organized from general to specific, or taxonomies, provide one of the most powerful ways to organize hypermedia nodes. Taxonomies allow inferences about similarity. Typed links are another extremely powerful way to make statements about how hypermedia nodes relate. These important concepts from the field Artificial Intelligence comprise the basic building blocks for knowledge-level techniques. In an application, these ideas need to be combined with a domain theory

Various knowledge level techniques were applied in the Open Meeting.

Architecture: The COMLINK Substrate

The Communications Linker System (COMLINK) provides a foundation for research into intelligent network services through a general-purpose substrate that is configured by a small amount of application-specific code. The core of COMLINK is a transaction-controlled, persistent-object database. Users interact with the database via email servers and web servers. These servers present messages or Web pages whose content is generated on the fly from the database. Dynamic Form Processing module [7, 8, 10] manages all interactions with users over both email or world wide web using a single, unified paradigm that, inter alia, validates all user input. Figure 7 summarizes the COMLINK architecture.

Figure 7: Communications Linker System

The database defines persistent objects related to the domain of network services. These persistent objects are defined with the Common Lisp Object System [4, 11]. They support multiple inheritance, a mix of persistent and dynamic instance variables, as well as multimethods, which allow method invocations to dispatch on possibly multiple arguments.

Basic Database Entities

The database represents the entire range of entities relevant to structuring a hypertext, operating on it, and providing interactive access to it over SMTP and HTTP.

Link Representation

The basic ontology provides the database support needed to access or route documents according to taxonomic categories, but it made no provision for representing links between document or making assertions about them. For the Open Meeting, relations were added to the COMLINK substrate. Borrowing from our research in natural language understanding [5 ], the approach added bidirectional ternary relations as first-class database objects. This small addition turned the document database into a semantic network with typed nodes.

Ternary relations have three components: a subject, an object, and a relation type. In this case, relations are used to link document objects. The PDIs used a document identifiers make it easy to link documents or comments together, regardless of their physical location. In the Open Meeting application, the relation types were the argument connectives and several internal links. Additionally, relations are explicitly represented as first-class objects so that assertions can be made about the relations as well.

In our natural-language research, we use ternary relation knowledge representations to represent English sentences because they are arbitrarily expressive, they can encode higher order logics, and yet, they support efficient computations. Thus, this approach to light-weight semantics for linking documents together evolves smoothly to heavy-weight semantics as ever more intensive knowledge-level techniques are combined with hypertext.

Generic Reviews

There are many applications that need to attach rankings, reviews, or discrete values to database objects. A generic review system was implemented that uses a single set of entity definitions to implement any range of reviews schemes, provided review values can be encoded in a numeric scale. While database objects in persistent memory are attached appropriately and hold a number representing the application meaning, these numbers are translated for use in dynamic memory as necessary and relevant for the application.

Moderation Workflow

In the Open Meeting, generic reviews implemented the following capabilities:

Figure 8: Moderation Work Flow

Persistent Actions

Email servers in COMLINK implement reliable tasking by maintaining a queue of pending requests in a task directory. Although this approach works for tasks invoked by users via email form processing, it does not provide a very general or flexible model that could help with access via the Web. The stateless nature of HTTP means that all information regarding a web transaction exists only within the transaction and disappears afterwards. Persistent actions stored in a transaction-controlled database provide a general, fine-grained, and flexible way to ensure the reliable execution of tasks in networked environments -- which are notoriously prone to availability problems and a range of other exceptional conditions.

Persistent actions represent tasks (computations) as database objects. They transfer the reliability of transaction-controlled database operations to the task domain. Reliable tasking works by posting a persistent action to be executed at a specific time, which may be immediate or in the future. Some actions are cyclic and are repeated at specific intervals. When the execution time is reached, the task runs the operation with all associated parameters in its own thread. If the operation succeeds, the persistent action is removed from the database. If the operation fails, the persistent action is rescheduled for execution after an application-defined delay. Transaction control assures that the task is reliably posted in the first place, and deleted only after successful completion.

In the Open Meeting, persistent actions were used for:

Persistent actions provide a means to enforce constraints on processes in the face of error and uncertainty. The moderation workflow example illustrates how a human process can be coupled with computer support to reliably achieve a task with a number of unreliable parts.

Context Information

Representing the context of communications is a key element in understanding organizational interactions that may occur in wide-area collaborations. Since one purpose of the Open Meeting was to create a framework for conversations accross traditional organizational boundaries, the system needed to track the interactions of participants as representatives of their organizations.

The discourse context provides a means to ground link grammars organizationally; situations and roles constrain the possible links. (Of course, discourse context also supplies information for natural language systems to resolve intersentential pronouns and indexicals).

Architecture: The Open Meeting Application

Hypertext Synthesis

The primary datastructure of the Open Meeting is the database representation of the hypertext. There were two logical views of the structure:

In principle, all views of this structure are synthesized on the fly, whether a user is viewing the structure via email or via the Web. Although the overall views presented over email and the Web are the same, differences in the character of these transport media imposed some asymmetries in the user interface, even though both views accessed the same functionality on the same structure. One invariant across all views and user interfaces was the need to provide context-sensitive navigation. Every presentation to users had a variety of links for stepping around the structure and returning to known reference points.

Email Hypertext

Many Federal workers who participated in the Open Meeting had only email access, and consequently, email hypertext browsing was the key technology that made possible their participation. Email hypertext pages always use ASCII forms that rely on the dynamic form processing facility. Hyperlinks are replaced by analogous queries preceding or following any text body. Because email transport is not realtime, there is no need for special caching to improve performance. Users step through pages at the rate of email roundtrips between themselves and the Open Meeting server. For this reason, it was very important to minimize the number of transactions required to traverse structures or accomplish some task, which is usually the number of form submissions by email. The constraint on minimizing email roundtrips introduced some divergence in the interface models between the Web and email views. For example, a single page might offer more options than the corresponding Web page. Context-sensitive navigation was especially important for email users. Despite these efforts, email access remained substantially more clumsy than Web access due to clients which are limited to linear, text-based interfaces and delay times which are often present in transport and processing.

Despite these drawbacks, the email interface served some very important functions in the Open Meeting:

Email Caching Strategy

During the Open Meeting, a simple governor limited the rate at which COMLINK accepted messages over SMTP and sufficed to keep computational load within hardware capabilities. The message traffic (e.g., submissions of surveys and comment) was heavily biased towards form processing that invoked relatively expensive database transactions. Fortunately, the SMTP protocol allows an email server to use unaffiliated store-and-forward mailers (Figure 9) out in the network to buffer the message traffic. This network buffering allows an overloaded email server to spread out message receipt and processing to periods of lower activity. This email strategy works as long as a server clears the backlog within 24 hours,

Web Caching Strategy

The realtime interactive properties of Web access threatened to put undue load on the main server (Symbolics XL1200 Lisp Machine) that had more than enough work managing the database as it handled all email communications and served web pages to moderators. In anticipation of this bottleneck, we deployed a caching proxy (CERN server) between the main database server and the Web users. (Figure 9) The only traffic at issue was Web-based browsing and searches.

Figure 9: HTTP & SMTP Traffic Flow

Two caching strategies were employed:

Although the Web caching strategy was designed to allow replication of the caching proxy, loading never became high enough to require additional hardware.

Use Patterns

The Open Meeting achieved its initial goal of attracting the attention of a large number of government workers from a wide range of organizations and geographic locations. Of the 4200 people who returned an online registration survey,

The differences between the registrants and all government workers highlight the importance of commitment and access for wide-area collaboration. Supervisors and other managers have a greater interest in proposals for bureaucratic reform than those they supervise, and engineering and information system workers have greater access to email and World Wide Web. Access also explains some anomalies in the distribution of the registrants. Generally, the larger and more technology involved organizations, like the Defense, NASA and Interior, had the largest numbers of registrants, but the under-representation of similar organizations, notably Treasury and NSA was due to their massive use of firewalls to restrict network access and penetration.

Hypertext Access

During the two week meeting itself, there were 35,000 Web accesses from nearly 1500 different hosts, exclusive of those by moderators and maintainers. While low by current standards for prominent government sites, e.g., the White House, this volume compares favorably with traffic at specialized and professional online forums. It is also large enough for the distribution of accesses over the pages to suggest how people navigate a complex information and conversation environment.

Table 2 shows a nearly consistent pattern of attrition of hosts with number of transactions from the root page, with the one exception being the smaller number who accessed the Newsletters than the Comments, although access to Newsletters was closer to the root. However, data for the second week alone would show a consistent pattern of attrition, since the Newsletters were not posted during the first week of the event. The newsletters in fact received considerable attention, either as a means by which users caught up on discussions or a substitute for reading the discussions themselves. Relatively few users moved outside the fixed-topology hypertext environment to accessing documents directly through the search interface.

Table 2: Open Meeting WWW Accesses
Content AreaHostsAccessesRoot %
Node Structure10721060073
Recommendations, Actions620370042
Search Interface28360519
Full Taxonomy37783

These usage patterns suggest that most Web users explored several topics broadly but shallowly by looking at Overviews, some Recommendations and available Newsletters. They ``felt'' their way through the information, not sure of what they were seeking and more inclined to quit the search than go beneath the top level information. About one third of total users also explored one or two topics deeply by traversing the hypertext at the comments level and using the search interface. Because the surveys show the registrants as a whole were highly motivated, the main difference between the two groups of seekers was likely information literacy, with the in-depth seekers the more literate. The distribution of the nearly 1000 subscriptions to conversations, for which the in-depth seekers were necessarily responsible tells us members of this group remained tightly focused. The subscriptions clustered around those conversations which attracted the most comments, rather than being used as a means to branch out. The pattern is consistent with our earlier remarks that localizing communication is the means to handle large and complex information flows. It also underscores that both the computer literate and the less experienced need low transaction-cost navigation tools that sketch the whole domain and lead to specific topics of interest.

Linking Commentary

Out of 1300 comments submitted, moderators accepted 1013, which were contributed by 290 different individuals. Some conversationsincluded ten or more speakers and had several branches. Although the moderators did not correct identifications of link types, we observed no mistaken identifications among submitted comments, except for one or two cases where a contributor may have deliberately mislabelled the type. The comments were generally positive and serious, with few flames. Half the comments were Agreement and 15% were Disagreements. Questions (167), Alternatives (106) and Promising Practices (72) accounted for nearly the rest, suggesting the contributors' willingness to use the meeting as a sounding board for ideas. Relatively few of the questions were answered (37), and almost no one used the more cognitively complex Qualification link (3).

While the ratio of contributors to accessors compares to the low ratios for newsgroups, the participation rate at the Open Meeting was higher for those reaching the comment level in this more complex environment. That result agrees with our theory regarding the effects of localizing communication. Low contribution levels are predictable in wide-area collaboration or problem solving, especially when participants have only general rather than specific functional roles. But, participants are likely to participate when conversations and work are localized and closer to their experiences and knowledge. Because the Open Meeting structure localizes communication, we might expect typically higher participation in collaborations that run several months and are free of external distractions, like approaching holidays.

Participant Satisfaction

Web users were generally satisfied with the meeting and they complained only about an overwhelming amount of text to read and being forced to submit their comments and survey responses via email rather than the Web. The email users complained about the clumsiness of email to traverse hypertext, poor instructions and network delays. These differences reflect, on one hand, the greater interactivity of Web GUIs for hypertext, and, on the other, the fact that the least technically experienced people, who needed the most instruction, had the less sophisticated equipment. They also indicate the need for caution in planning to use email as transport in advanced information environments. Contemporary email does not easily support complex processes, like concurrent multilateral discussions of issues or wide-area collaboration. Instead of simplifying to accommodate the email limitations, the demand for broad participation which email satisfies should motivate upgrading the resources of the less technologically experienced and more basically equipped. But the SMTP transport need not be discarded; as we have seen, use of email subscriptions to track conversations spares the user the transaction costs involved in periodically revisiting the hypertext. Indeed recent trends toward closer integration of clients for reading email and browsing the Web may make SMTP a more useful transport media for wide-area collaboration systems.


The success of the Open Meeting demonstrates the importance of taxonomic decomposition and meaningful link types in the organization of wide-area collaboration. The meeting showed that people can use typed links which they understand to create argument-structured discourse in a policy planning situation.

A desirable next step is to develop links grammar for decision processes. To generate the kind of knowledge process they seek, convenors of wide-area collaborations may select an appropriate set of link types and composition grammar. In the Open Meeting, the link grammar used did not provide for termination of a conversation. Other planning or action grammars can provide termination -- like cloture in parliamentary debate. Interestingly, if we vary decision grammars according to different agent capabilities and functional roles, we start modeling reconfigurable organizations. The views into these processes can similarly be generated fr different agents according to their capabilities and roles. Thus, power and social relations within the organization come to be defined by what an agent can do based on information accessible to the agent. This functional division of labor and knowledge, in turn, defines the organization as a process. Thus, experiments in wide-area collaboration promises contributions to new organization theories.

Another step devises link grammars for knowledge formation in scientific communities, and building research in scientific paradigms. Churchman [2] outlines methods of inquiring that can be constructed on the basis of several famous epistemologies. We should try to correlate each of these with a link semantics and explore their productivity in wide-area scientific collaboration. Finally, since wide-area collaborations will include the coordination of work as well as integration of information and opinions, we need to develop systems that can recognize collaborative situations, infer possible options, and recommend strategies or identify resources. These kinds of wide-area collaboration systems promise to help scientists conduct research more effectively as disciplines grow in complexity and knowledge advances more rapidly.

The World Wide Web offers unprecedented opportunities for wide-area collaboration at a time when nothing less seems likely to cope with endemic and emergent global problems. We have argued that collaboration systems can begin to manage the complexity by supporting the specialization and localization of knowledge, planning and evaluation. Successful systems will then face the challenge of reintegrating all their partial results.


Roger Hurwitz and John C. Mallery are research scientists at the M.I.T. Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and architects of the Open Meeting. Mallery is the principal architect and developer of the COMLINK System. Benjamin Renaud contributed significantly to operation of the Open Meeting as well as the implementation and design of a number of the application components, including the moderator interface, generation and caching of virtual pages, and some email interfaces. Mark Nahabedian helped us recover from some disk drive failures. The Vice President's 1994 Open Meeting on the National Performance Review was a collaborative effort between The M.I.T. Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, The White House, National Performance Review, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Mitre Corporation. Randy Katz that made this project happen by bringing together the players, who included Larry Koskinen and Andy Campbell from NPR. Jonathan P. Gill and Thomas Kalil provided inspiration and critical support for the effort. Howard E. Shrobe helped with earlier versions of the Communication Linker System and provided endless moral support. This paper describes research done at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Support for the M.I.T. Artificial Intelligence Laboratory's artificial intelligence research is provided in part by the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense under contract number MDA972-93-1-003N7.


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About the Authors

Roger Hurwitz is a research scientist at the M.I.T. Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, an architect of the Open Meeting System and a contributor to COMLINK development. His work focuses on the modeling, measurement and management of collective actions, public communications flows and organizational intelligence. It draws on knowledge representation, discouse analysis, organization theory and social science models and survey techniques. Hurwitz holds a Ph.D. from M.I.T., has taught at M.I.T. and the Hebrew University (Jerusalem) and has consulted for major communication companies and UN agencies. A member of several professional committees on the globlization of scientific communications, his publications concern paradigm development in the social sciences, patterns of media diffusion in late industrial societies and process models of collective actions and knowledge formation. Current projects include the use of the Open Meeting System for interorganizational planning, collaboration and knowledge formation, and the creation of an analytic environment for tracking aggregate national and international media flows.

John C. Mallery is technical director of the Intelligent Information Infrastructure Project at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research interests center around new ways to model international interactions and new ways to incorporate advanced computational methods into interactive political communication. He has developed computer systems that construct natural language models from narrative text, learn if-then rules from complexly-structured event data, and conduct automatic opinion surveys over global computer networks. An electronic publications system, which he developed for use during the 1992 presidential campaign, currently serves as the primary distribution hub for press releases by the U.S. White House. His current research explores intelligent information access, wide-area collaboration, knowledge-based organizations, and global knowledge webs.