Virtual collaboration-the act of working together across boundaries of space, time, and organization, aided by technology-has become increasingly commonplace in recent years. Doing so, however, presents a number of challenges to those involved. One of these is that because of a lack of experience in collaborating through computer-based collaboration systems, there is little knowledge on how to carry out collaboration virtually. Another is that it is not easy for those not directly involved in the collaboration to know what is, and has been, 'going on' during virtual collaboration. This thesis suggests that both of these challenges can be addressed with the same approach, namely by referring to observations of virtual collaboration. The problem then is how such observations of virtual collaboration can be obtained without requiring those involved in it to document their own actions. To address this problem is the objective of this thesis.
The approach proposed here involves three elements: firstly, the collection of data about virtual collaboration; secondly, the modeling of this data; and thirdly, the derivation of increasingly abstract, larger-scale representations of virtual collaboration from this data. These representations are termed patterns of virtual collaboration, which are abstract descriptions of activities of virtual collaboration. A multi-layered conceptual model of information, the Information Pyramid of Virtual Collaboration, is proposed, providing different views of information related to virtual collaboration, at different levels of abstraction. The thesis then suggests how from a given body of data, patterns of virtual collaboration at a corresponding level of the Information Pyramid can be extracted, and how from collections of such patterns more abstract patterns of larger-scale activity can be derived, providing the observations of virtual collaboration sought.
In considering how the extraction of patterns of virtual collaboration fits into the larger context of the conception, design, and use of collaboration systems, a Framework for Pattern Extraction and Feedback is proposed. This framework introduces the notion of collaboration memory, a type of organizational memory that contains records of collaborative activity. Moreover, the framework suggests how extracted patterns of virtual collaboration feed back into both ongoing development and use of collaboration systems.
Finally, the modeling and extraction of patterns of virtual collaboration is illustrated in a case study involving the LIVENET collaboration system.