Re: Can IBIS be useful for individual/asynchronous collaboration? (was Re: [unrev-II] Visualstimuli & IBIS methodology)

From: Eric Armstrong (
Date: Wed Nov 07 2001 - 11:53:51 PST

  • Next message: Eric Armstrong: "Re: [unrev-II] Visual stimuli & IBIS methodology"

    Wow!!! Congratulations on the progress you guys have made.
    It seems clear that you guys are in a good position to know what
    works well, and what has problems.

    I find it particularly noteworthy that, having actually implemented
    a system that will allow carring on an IBIS-style investigation, it
    is still difficult to use that medium as a discussion tool. It seems
    rather as a good mechanism for recording discussions after the
    fact, and tying them to the decisions that result.

    Is that an accurate summary? wrote:

    > Much of what Compendium started from was a set of attempts to add many
    > of
    > the features Eric advocates to the basic IBIS/QuestMap set of tools,
    > in
    > part for many of the same reasons he writes about below.
    > Some definitions: "Compendium" is a methodology that incorporates, but
    > extends, IBIS; "Mifflin" is a Java-based software tool that implements
    > the
    > Compendium methodology. The "we" of the below is mostly the core group
    > that
    > has been working with Compendium for the last few years; a list of
    > names
    > can be found at
    > To add retroactive categorization (a/k/a "incremental formalization" a
    > la
    > Shipman), we developed a (manual in QuestMap, later automated in
    > Mifflin)
    > method of adding categories to nodes.
    > To aid ease of use in adding structured information to unstructured
    > conversations, we developed templates and other structuring tools.
    > These
    > were done semi-manually when we used QuestMap, and are being automated
    > in
    > Mifflin.
    > To address the relative ease of entering text in an email, word
    > processing,
    > outliner, or spreadsheet format, we developed conversion tools that
    > automatically converted text (in paragraph or cell chunks) into typed
    > nodes
    > and links for import into QuestMap (and later Mifflin). The text could
    > either be free-form or semi-formalized. We also developed tools in
    > Word or
    > Excel that allowed users to add metadata (tags/categories) within
    > those
    > tools if they preferred. Both tools were also adapted to specialized
    > contexts (i.e. performing particular kinds of conversions based on
    > particular requirements).
    > To further 'glue' and leverage the IBIS-format discussions and other
    > material in a Compendium database, we developed export tools that
    > created
    > formatted output in Word, Excel, HTML, and Visio formats. Each of
    > these
    > could either be 'generic' or specialized. For example, a five team,
    > ~60
    > person Compendium analysis of Bell Atlantic's Y2K contingency planning
    > was
    > output in both a set of tabular "reports" and in dataflow diagrams in
    > Visio. These exports took advantage of many different combinations of
    > metadata (node types, link types, tags, transclusions, annotations,
    > ...).
    > One of QuestMap's limitations as software was that its database was
    > inaccessible except through the tool's GUI. Mifflin's database is
    > open,
    > allowing for much more sophisticated and flexible conversions of data
    > into
    > and out of an IBIS or IBIS-like format. We're just beginning to
    > explore the
    > possibilities there. We've also developed a draft DTD for this data
    > model,
    > which can be found at
    > (comments enthusiastically welcomed!). For example, Maarten Sierhuis'
    > group
    > at NASA Ames is investigating interweaving Compendium models built
    > collaboratively in Mifflin with the Brahms agent-based simulation
    > environment.
    > There are more such features that at least partially address the
    > requirements Eric outlines.
    > However, all of the above leave open the question of whether any of
    > this
    > directly addresses the issue of individuals working alone,
    > asynchronously.
    > Some thoughts on this follow.
    > Mifflin outputs maps as linked HTML maps, optionally preserving much
    > of the
    > metadata (transclusions, tags and categories, node types, etc.) We've
    > experimented with exporting these maps into D3E, allowing asynchronous
    > discussion in a more web-friendly (and individual user-friendly?)
    > format.
    > The D3E team is looking into re-importing such discussion back into
    > Mifflin
    > when desired.
    > I'm pretty sure I agree that an IBIS form, like Compendium, is not the
    > right form for unstructured individual/asynchronous collaboration (I'm
    > only
    > 'pretty sure' because it's always possible that someone will come up
    > with
    > better ways to do it). We have never had much success with it in that
    > form
    > per se. However, we have had a fair amount of success using Compendium
    > asynchronously on highly focused project teams, such as software
    > development teams, especially when such use is interwoven with
    > public/synchronous use in meetings (whether face to face or virtual).
    > Most
    > of the success, though, is not as a "discussion" per se, but rather
    > adding
    > metadata, annotations, or other information to targeted portions of
    > the
    > database in the service of relatively structured tasks (which are then
    > reviewed, discussed, and further edited in group meetings). An example
    > would be individuals adding updates to open issues or action items;
    > changing tags/categories on "bug" nodes to denote that the status has
    > changed (e.g. from "open bug" to "ready to test"), and so on. A lot of
    > the
    > material that ends up in these databases, by the way, started life as
    > unstructured text in emails or other documents -- with formalization
    > and
    > reuse added in all along the way.
    > I've started to think that an IBIS-like form is most useful when
    > thought of
    > as a "meeting interface" -- something of especial use precisely when
    > groups
    > of people are working through issues together. What Compendium tries
    > to do
    > is to provide a set of tools and methods that allow this form to be
    > interwoven with other forms (D3E, MS-Office documents, etc.) when and
    > as
    > appropriate -- preserving the both the raw data and the metadata both
    > 'in'
    > and 'out' of those other forms. Structure and metadata can be brought
    > to
    > unstructured material; informal and exploratory conversation can be
    > brought
    > to structured material. The idea is to provide the right form for the
    > right
    > use, the right structures at the right time, without limiting the user
    > community to one modality. So it's not a question of either meetings
    > or
    > individual work, but bringing the two together in a continuum or
    > cycle.
    > Al
    > ====
    > Eric wrote:
    > That is one reason I favor systems that let you add categories and
    > tags
    > later in the process. That way, you can stream out your
    > thoughts, and
    > then go back later to tag
    > them, or someone else can do so.
    > As you say, people typically find it hard to maintain a logical thread
    > of reasoning
    > while at the same time endeavoring to:
    > * chop up discourse into nodes
    > * give those nodes types
    > * determine what types the links should be
    > * determine where the semantics go
    > Each of those areas constitutes a "weakness of the system" to
    > precicesly
    > the degree
    > that people find it hard to do. I think there are answers to many of
    > them:
    > 1) Education.
    > People find many things hard to do that they eventually learn to
    > do with ease.
    > Human adaptability being what it is, we can get used to most
    > anything. But we
    > need a standard playing field for that to happen.
    > 2) Software Technology
    > In an outliner for example, "chopping into nodes" is automatic.
    > You don't
    > even think about it. So that hurdle can be minimized with the
    > right
    > software.
    > 3) Retractive Cateorizing
    > Applying types to nodes and to links in a later step makes it
    > possible for
    > a moderator to have a significant impact on the proceedings.
    > Once
    > you
    > know the system, you can apply types proactively. But that
    > choice
    > should
    > not be forced on you at the outset. (That is the kind of system
    > that was
    > under discussion. The requirement to choose types at the outset
    > constitues
    > a true "weakness" of the system.)
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