What: Set of audio conferencing and collaboration tools for use in distributed meetings.
Where: Collaborative Environments Group, Sun Microsystems Laboratories.
How: Principal Investigator. Tasks included user research, brainstorming, prototyping, interaction design, usability testing, documentation, paper writing, and software demonstrations.
The Meeting Suite was designed to improve the effectiveness of distributed meetings, particularly audio conferencing. We defined distributed meetings broadly to mean two or more people in different locations doing any sort of communication.
The design of this tool was based on extensive user research. I was asked to participate on a company-wide team to analyze distributed meetings, helping to understand the pain points. Using survey data, ethnographic research, interviews, and an extensive review of trouble tickets related to problems with distributed meetings, the user research team came up with a list of the top 10 most severe problems, including not knowing who is in the meeting, not knowing the identity of the people speaking, trouble hearing, trouble understanding accented speech, and not having easy access to the meeting documents.
Most of the problems uncovered by the research team were issues that could be solved with software. I put together a team to prototype a tool that would specifically address only those problems that had the biggest impact on meeting effectiveness. The software, for example, shows who’s present, who’s speaking, and who’s having trouble hearing. It also integrates a voting mechanism, a multi-user PDF viewer for sharing presentations, telepointers for gesturing and pointing, and a place to centrally store all meeting documents. Advanced audio features included private voice chats and the ability to modify the volume of each participant and move them around in the stereo field. The Meeting Suite also included features tailored to executive-level meetings including waiting rooms, authenticated dial-in, restricted and closed meetings, and access-control lists for individual meeting documents.
The Meeting Suite was in use internally for several years at Sun Microsystems. It was on a product track several times. In one attempt to transfer the technology to the product organization, our research team re-implemented the key features in a web browser. We called this version of the software Conference Manager.
My biggest regret about this project is that we did not build it in open source. It was a practical, well-liked tool that probably would have attracted a substantial user base had it been made available.
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