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The survival of the social: social interaction foraging in highly distributed professional social networks
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Informatics.
(English)In: Article in journal (Refereed) Submitted
Abstract [en]

We present an empirical study of social interaction in a highly distributed professional social network. It takes as point of departure, previous research into distributed work and information foraging theory to explore social interaction search behaviour. We look at how people locate relevant collaborators to execute shared work tasks in a distributed network of professionals in the area of logistics. From our empirical data we identify six characteristics of the explored processes. We identify “the survival of the social” as a cornerstone for efficient and long-term professional social networks and outline design implications arising from our findings. In particular we identified some characteristics related to the active nature of social agents, the need for negotiation and long-term maintenance of social networks. Rather than optimising based on task characteristics, efficiency and cost, we show that participants are oriented to logistics solutions that involve active social agents and social relations. These behaviours illustrate basic mechanisms of highly distributed effective professional social networks and motivate the need for social interaction foraging theory. Furthermore, our design recommendations suggest that personal (as opposed to public) open interaction channels could be beneficial for the effectiveness and strength of the whole professional social network.

Keyword [en]
Social interaction foraging, information foraging, social network, distributed work, coordination, interaction serach
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-29944OAI: diva2:278630
Available from: 2009-11-27 Created: 2009-11-27 Last updated: 2012-01-31
In thesis
1. Striking a balance: Managing collaborative multitasking in computer-supported cooperation
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Striking a balance: Managing collaborative multitasking in computer-supported cooperation
2009 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This thesis is a collection of six papers and a cover paper reporting an exploration of how to strike a balance between individual task execution and work articulation in Computer-supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). The interest in this theme is motivated by an increased reliance of IT-supported cooperative work arrangements in modern organizations, the fragmented layout of work for multitasking individuals and reports on various forms of overload, increased level of stress and anxiety experienced by workers active in these organizations.

Modern organizations are increasingly reliant on IT-supported cooperative work arrangements for doing work. Cooperators are not only expected to execute assigned tasks, but also to engage in work articulation. This is a term used to describe the process of rich and frequent interaction needed for securing that the contributions of cooperators are executed in such a way that the overall goal is reached. As cooperators typically are involved in several work formations in parallel, they need to find a balance between individual work and work articulation in relation to several work formations. The challenge of finding a balance in cooperative work has only to a limited extent been addressed in CSCW and there are few successful designs available for this purpose. The scope of this thesis is to develop an understanding of the challenges faced and strategies deployed by cooperators and work formations for striking a balance in work. The purpose is therefore to explore how multitasking individuals manage to find a balance between task execution and articulation work in computer-supported cooperative work, what challenges they face in the process, and how IT should be designed to support them. To reach this purpose several instances of cooperative work in different contexts have been closely studied.

The main conclusions of this thesis are that cooperators are constantly struggling for a balance in work through making frequent switches between work formations, individual task execution and work articulation, sometimes through making switches in the technology that is used. Strategies for finding this balance are developed in relation to the specific context of a cooperative activity as cooperators ‘design’ their use of IT, structures, procedures and norms. It is further concluded that for avoiding overloads of interaction, cooperators show and estimate availability through reliance on various sources of shared information, that social (e.g. interpersonal relation) and contextual factors (e.g. location) are considered when establishing interaction, that cooperators when searching for interaction with others are influenced by their estimated availability, competence and willingness to assist, but also by network maintenance efforts (i.e. an ambition to avoid overloading and underutilizing other cooperators). Finally, it is concluded that norms are important for finding a balance in work as they reduce the interaction needed for work articulation.

The main contributions of this thesis are rich descriptions of four cooperative work formations, the challenges they face and the strategies they apply, redefined theoretical concepts (i.e. availability management, interruption, multitasking) and extended understanding of interaction search behavior and ways to achieve high levels of informal interaction across distance. This work also provides some practical contributions in the form of implications for designers of supportive IT and implications for cooperators active in modern organizations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, Institutionen för informatik, 2009. 333 p.
, Research Report, Department of Informatics, ISSN 1401-4572 ; 09.03
Computer-supported Cooperative Work, articulation work, individual task execution, balance, interruptions, availability, awareness, interaction, information technology, multitasking, task switching
National Category
Computer and Information Science
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-29945 (URN)978-91-7264-894-4 (ISBN)
Public defence
2009-12-21, MA121, MIT-huset, Umeå Universitet, Umeå, 13:15 (English)
Available from: 2009-11-30 Created: 2009-11-27 Last updated: 2009-11-30Bibliographically approved

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