PortholesTNG — A Group Awareness Tool

A group awareness tool provides group and individual information to members of a physically distributed work group. This information allows the users to formulate a general and peripheral awareness of their co-workers. Such tools are intended to re-create some of the information that are available to co-located group members but are unavailable to individuals who are not co-located. The information may include general information about the physical and social environment, knowledge of and activities of individuals and groups, and information relevant to opportunities for collaboration and coordination.

The initial and more prevalent forms of these awareness tools have used video and video images as the information kernel. In recent years, a number of researchers have proposed the use of representations, other than video or video images, that are more abstract, compact, and iconic.

There are two different flavors of video-based group awareness tools: portholes and glances. Portholes provide an integrative view of one's community through a matrix of still video images (see Xerox Polyscope [1], Xerox Portholes [3], and NYNEX Portholes [5]). These images are snapped periodically (e.g., every 5 minutes) and the matrix is updated automatically. As a result, users can get a peripheral or background sense of their co-workers and activities. Glances provide electronic analogues of users strolling down a hallway and intentionally glancing into people's offices (see Bellcore Cruiser [2] and Sun Microsystems' Montage[6]). Portholes provide users with awareness in the periphery of their attention (i.e., passive awareness), while glances are explicit, intentional, remote queries into a co-worker's work space (i.e., active awareness).


  1. A. Borning and M. Travers. Two Approaches to Casual Interaction Over Computer and Video Networks. In Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHIí91 Conference Proceedings (New Orleans, LA), New York: ACM, pp. 13-19, 1991.
  2. C. Cool, R.S. Fish, R.E. Kraut, and C.M. Lowery. Iterative Design of Video Communication Systems. In Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW'92), New York: ACM, pp. 25-32, 1992.
  3. P. Dourish and S. Bly. Supporting Awareness in a Distributed Work Group. Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI'92 Conference Proceedings (Monterey, CA), New York, pp. 541-547.
  4. A. Girgensohn, A. Lee, and T. Turner. Being in Public and Reciprocity: Design for Portholes and User Preference. In Human-Computer Interaction INTERACT '99, IOS Press, pp. 458-465, 1999.
  5. A. Lee, A. Girgensohn, and K. Schlueter. NYNEX Portholes: Initial User Reactions and Redesign Implications. Proceedings of the International ACM SIGGROUP Conference on Supporting Group Work, GROUP'97 (Phoenix, AZ), New York, NY, pp. 385-394.
  6. J.C. Tang, E.A. Isaacs, and M. Rua. Supporting Distributed Groups with a Montage of Lightweight Interactions. In Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW'94), New York: ACM, pp. 23-34, 1994.
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© 1999-2001 Alison Lee and Andreas Girgensohn