The Open Meeting:
A Web-Based System for Conferencing and Collaboration

Roger Hurwitz and John C. Mallery
Intelligent Information Infrastructure Project
Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

November 7, 1995

Proceedings of The Fourth International Conference on The World Wide Web, Boston: MIT, 10:30 am Tuesday December 12, 1995.

Abstract: An asynchronous collaboration system was developed for Vice President AL Gore's Open Meeting on the National Performance Review. The system supported a large online meeting with over 4000 participants and successfully achieved all its design goals. A theory for managing wide-area collaboration guided the implementation as it extended an earlier system developed to publish electronic documents. It provided users access over SMTP and HTTP to hypertext synthesized from an object database and structured with knowledge representation techniques, including a light-weight semantics based on argument connectives. The users participated in policy planning as they discussed, evaluated, and critiqued recommendations by linking their comments to points in the evolving policy hypertext. These policy conversations were structured according to a link grammar that constrained the types of comments which could be attached in specific discourse contexts. Persistent actions enforced constraints on man-machine tasks, such as moderation workflow. Timely delivery of newly moderated comments kept the conversation gain at a level comparable to tightly-focused mailing lists threading out from specific points in the hypertext. After reviewing the architecture and performance of the system in this Open Meeting, the paper closes with discussion of lessons learned and suggestions for future research.

Keywords: Collaboration, Form Processing, HTTP, Information Access, Link Grammar, National Performance Review, Organization Theory, Persistent Actions, Semantic Network, SMTP, Surveys, Typed Links, URN, White House, World Wide Web.