Sunday, October 07, 2012

Writing :: Activity Streams: Building Context to Coordinate Writing Activity in Collaborative Teams

Hart-Davidson, W., Zachry, M., & Spinuzzi, C. (2012).  Activity streams: Building context to coordinate writing activity in collaborative teams. SIGDOC ‘12: Proceedings of the 30th Annual ACM International Conference on Design of Communication. New York: ACM.

This is the fourth in my ongoing series on writing publications. Unlike the first three, it's coauthored—in fact, I'm only the third author. Bill and Mark have to take credit for the heavy lifting.

The paper doesn't have a link yet because it hasn't been uploaded to the ACM Digital Library, but it will be soon. (Update: it's linked now—10/10/12.) And if you attended SIGDOC 2012 (which just wrapped), you have the paper on a USB drive.

So: What's interesting about this particular paper? It follows a line of development that Mark, Bill, and I started in the mid-2000s, when we really became interested in the question of how people in knowledge work environments might use social media to communicate. In particular, we had studied proposal writing in three organizations and we had become interested in the possibilities. I had written a literature review on lifestreaming and workstreaming for SIGDOC 2007 (which was rejected), and in the process, we became interested in the notion of activity streams.

In the intervening years, we pursued separate projects. Bill and his research team at WIDE began the project that eventually became Eli. Mark and his research groups began investigating social media and editing history in a remarkable string of papers. I continued studying how people in small, transient teams used various channels to communicate with each other. But the three of us continued to communicate about our projects and their similarities.

This year, Mark served as conference chair for SIGDOC and I served as program chair. Since Bill expressed interest in coming, one of us (I forget who) suggested that we put together a paper that pulled together what we knew about activity streams from our ongoing research. The collaboration worked well, as usual. I pulled the lit review from the rejected 2007 paper, freshened it, and plugged it in; Bill wrote a section on activity streams and recapitulated our earlier research; the three of us contributed summaries of our cases; and we collectively edited the document. I think it turned out pretty well.

What lessons can you learn from this paper? One is that when a paper is rejected, sometimes that's because it doesn't yet serve a purpose. My 2007 workstreaming paper was an okay review, but it didn't have a "so what" beyond the fact that the phenomenon was interesting; I had to think through why workstreaming was important, something that the intervening cases helped me to do.

And it's worth pointing out that this year, SIGDOC's reviewers rejected two of my papers. That's fine: I'm already starting to think through how they could be made useful in other publications.

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