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NSF Awards $1M for Research in Digital CommonSpaces


November 2000

The National Science Foundation Research Infrastructure program has awarded a $1M grant to the Department of Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder to study symbiotic computing environments. The grant provides research infrastructure equipment which 15 of the Department's faculty will use to study various aspects of a Digital CommonSpace. Today's small, communicating computers (SCCs) are an integral part of tomorrow's Internet: SCCs are used to collect and use information and tools in their personal information space. This information space, which we call Digital CommonSpace, is managed by a broad spectrum of equipment: SCCs, laptop computers, personal computers and workstations, and server machines interconnected by a spectrum of networks. This grant provides funding to install a conduct leading edge experimental research environment that will enable the scientists to assemble and prototype Digital CommonSpaces and SCCs.

Information is becoming an increasingly important resource to enable people to live comfortably and to succeed in their careers. The Internet evolution will continue making larger and larger amounts of information easily available to those who are able to navigate, filter, select, store, and query relevant aspects of the entire information set. We foresee a growing importance in tools and methodologies that enable people to manage a large amount of information and a large number of information channels, supporting an individual's awareness of a rapidly changing information domain, such as developments in computing technology, or supporting the work of a group of people working collaboratively in such a domain.

The interaction aspect of a space is its support for communication and control, beyond passive access to information. For example, a space can include not only the temperature in one's house but also a control for the thermostat. It can also include an interface to information appliances and other specialized embedded computers. And it can represent bidirectional information channels, for example to co-workers.

Computer hardware and networks are evolving such that SCCs will become an integral part of the tools in a symbiotic computer system that is used for dealing with the information space. Having a highly portable computing device offers not only the benefits of uninterrupted access, but also the benefits of maintaining only a single information space, rather than (as now) one space on a portable device, another on an office machine, and another on a home machine, etc., with corresponding disincentive for investing in the development of any one space. An essential element of the motivation for this proposal is that these new portable devices are complementary to the symbiotic computing environment.

The vision is to create an inclusive space that you inhabit a great deal of the time, and that integrates access to as much of the information you need to deal with as possible. For example, both current browser access to the web and current email would be subsumed by aspects of a single space.

The vision suggests that people will use a modern day, digital counterpart to the traditional commonplace book (from the Oxford English Dictionary):

Commonplace Book Formerly, book of common places (see Common place) orig. A book in which "commonplaces" or passages important for reference were collected, usually under general heads; hence, a book in which one records passages or matters to be especially remembered or referred to, with or without arrangement.

In this emerging era of symbiotic computing, people need an electronic version of a commonplace book. Unlike earlier commonplace books, an electronic common place book should allow sharing and collaboration, becoming both a commonplace book and a common space where people can collaborate: a Digital CommonSpace. The Digital CommonSpace is a logical entity that a person uses to capture information and tools that describe entities, artifacts, and events that the person wishes to remember and explore at a later time. The Digital CommonSpace is maintained in a symbiotic computer system -- a collection of servers, desktop machines, and SCCs interconnected via an array of network technologies.

PIs for this research are Gary Nutt, Dirk Grunwald, Roger (Buzz) King, Clayton Lewis, and William Waite.

See also:
Department of Computer Science
College of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
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