Collaborative software, also known as groupware, is application software that integrates work on a single project by several concurrent users at separated workstations (see also Computer supported cooperative work). In its modern form, it was pioneered by Lotus Software with the popular Lotus Notes application running in connection with a Lotus Domino server; some historians argue that groupware was anticipated by earlier monolithic systems like NLS. The wiki software upon which Wikipedia runs evolved from a free software philosophy for similar collaborative applications—without the trade limitations of proprietary software or the social limitation of a hierarchy.

Software becomes more valuable when more people use it and thus Metcalfe's law applies. For example, calendaring becomes more useful when more people are connected to the same electronic calendar and choose to keep their individual calendars up-to-date.

The more general term social software applies to systems used outside the workplace, for instance, online dating services and social networks like Friendster. The study of computer-supported collaboration includes study of the software and social phenomena associated with it. These are covered in different articles.


Collaboration, with respect to information technology, seems to have many definitions. Some are defensible but others are so broad they lose any meaningful application. Understanding the differences in human interactions is necessary to ensure the appropriate technologies are employed to meet interaction needs.

There are three primary ways in which humans interact; conversational interaction, transactional interaction, and collaborative interaction:

Conversational interaction is an exchange of information between one or many participants where the primary purpose of the interaction is discovery or relationship building. There is no central entity around which the interaction revolves but is a free exchange of information with no defined constraints. Communication technology such as telephones, instant messaging, and e-mail are generally sufficient for conversational interactions.

Transactional interaction involves the exchange of transaction entities where a major function of the transaction entity is to alter the relationship between participants. The transaction entity is in a relatively stable form and constrains or defines the new relationship. One participant exchanges money for goods and becomes a customer. Transactional interactions are most effectively handled by transactional systems that manage state and commit records for persistent storage.

In collaborative interactions the main function of the participants' relationship is to alter a collaboration entity (i.e., the converse of transactional). The collaboration entity is in a relatively unstable form. Examples include the development of an idea, the creation of a design, the achievement of a shared goal. Therefore, real collaboration technologies deliver the functionality for many participants to augment a common deliverable. Record or document management, threaded discussions, audit history, and other mechanisms designed to capture the efforts of many into a managed content environment are typical of collaboration technologies.

An extension of groupware is collaborative media, software that allows several concurrent users to create and manage information in a website. Collaborative media models include wiki and Slashdot models. Some sites with publicly accessible content based on collaborative software are: WikiWiki, Wikipedia and Everything2.

By method used we can divide them in:

  • Web-based collaborative tools
  • Software collaborative tools

By area served we can divide them in:

Three levels of collaborationEdit

Groupware can be divided into three categories depending on the level of collaborationcommunication tools, conferencing tools and collaborative management (Co-ordination) tools.

  • Electronic communication tools send messages, files, data, or documents between people and hence facilitate the sharing of information. Examples include:
  • Electronic conferencing tools also facilitate the sharing of information, but in a more interactive way. Examples include:
    • data conferencing — networked PCs share a common "whiteboard" that each user can modify
    • voice conferencing — telephones allow users to interact
    • video conferencing (and audio conferencing) — networked PCs share video or audio signals
    • Internet forums (also known as message boards or discussion boards) — a virtual discussion platform to facilitate and manage online text messages
    • chat rooms — a virtual discussion platform to facilitate and manage real-time text messages
    • electronic meeting systems (EMS) — a conferencing system built into a room. The special purpose room will usually contain a large screen projector interlinked with numerous PCs.
  • Collaborative management tools facilitate and manage group activities. Examples include:

Collaborative software can be either web based (such as UseModWiki or Scoop), or desktop systems (such as CVS or RCS).


The biggest hurdle in implementing groupware is convincing people to use it. Training is required to make people comfortable using it, and if people don't feel comfortable with the software, they won't use it. Employees should be given incentives to contribute: the rewards could be either financial or psychological.

In many cases collaboration is at odds with the company's corporate culture so implementation will be disruptive. Shifting a corporate culture from being competitive to being cooperative is no small undertaking. It will require changes at all levels of the organization, including the CEO.

Voting methodsEdit

Voting has many uses in collaboration software. Condorcet voting offers input from multiple experts or perspectives and can resolve intransitivity problems in decision making. In recommendation systems, rating or voting on many items can be used to formulate profiles for highly successful recommendations; and in document collaboration, such as Wikipedia, voting methods help to guide the creation of new pages.

Use of voting to order lists of sections such as this one remains largely unexplored. This also pertains to collective intelligence.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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