Interruption Tax and Social Software
A key consideration in designing Social Software: Is the value of the interruption greater than what's being interrupted? Interruption has a cost beyond switching tasks. The cost of recovery. Consider:
- 15-20% of an employee's effort is spent dealing with interrupts (15-20 min. per interrupt) [R. Solingen 1998]
- The recovery time after a phone call is at least 15 min. [DeMarco 1987]
- Email interruptions occur more frequently (every ~ 5 min.) but have a shorter recovery time of a little over 1 minute [Jackson 2001]
Now these are studies of everyday work, not brainstorming meetings. I have yet to find a study of IM recovery times, and it generally will be less than email. When using In-room Chat as Social Software there is also the benefit of having similar content and context between the live discussion and what flows on IM. One study of IM showed that if the message content was relative to the current task and if sensitivity to performance of the current task was low, the cost of interruption would be minimal. These costs make me believe that the greater value of these tools to provide communication, cues and moves would be Out-of-room.
However, If the costs of interruption prove to be high relative to the benefit of free-flowing In-room chat, renewed focus should be given to structuring the IM component. The options I would suggest are using software for decision making or emphasizing asynchronous chat. The objective of most meetings is making decisions. Using software to signal, poll, draft and decide could add clarity, expression and value.
Speaking from a personal experience of when weblogs were being used as Social Software at Supernova, I gained value from being able to step away from the instantanious commentary and communication that paralleled the presentations. It let me listen and have time to annotate. During downtime I could turn to postings and synthesize.
But the Social Software experiments today are discovering a new form of Jazz, of improvisation, of communal processing. Kind of like a Happening from the 60s. Its really a new mode of communication, with the discovery of design taking place it could move from art to science.