On the Design of Intelligent Memory Functions for Virtual Meeting Places: Examining Potential Benefits and Requirements Version 11

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In this contribution we argued that the inhabitants of virtual meeting places will benefit from the availability of intelligent memory functions, and illustrated some of them by means of use case scenarios. Most apparently memory functions are an important aid for someone who wants to join an ongoing meeting either as a new- or a latecomer. Driven by our work on the development of the Magic Lounge system, we suggest a memory concept that supports a user’s cognitive activity of remembering. In this view, it is the users who remember while the system only provides assistance in this process, e.g. by providing various views on information that has been observed by the system and which may become critical to multi-party conversational performance. This requires intelligent functions like classification of events, retrieval of relevant messages in view of their content, and associative access to memory contents. We have sketched what technology is required in order to equip virtual meeting places with such memory functions. As long as the message content is available in electronic text format, relatively advanced and robust services can be realised with current technology. This is not yet achievable for other media, such as graphical representations and recorded audio or video streams.

Not less important is the fact that a memory can serve as a common working context in a system. While many of today’s conferencing and groupware systems provide more or less isolated tools for different activities, a much higher degree of integration between tools can be achieved on the basis of such a common working context.

While we have already started with implementing our concept of a shared conversation memory for virtual meeting places in the context of the Magic Lounge project, it is clear that this work just represents some first steps towards memory-based communication services yet leaving open a variety of questions for future research. For example, besides the memory functions as such there is the question how they should be made available to the inhabitants of a virtual meeting place. Of course, the interface design for memory functions is part of the interface design of the whole virtual meeting place and, speaking metaphorically, the design of the “entrance doors” to the virtual place. Taking the mere functional perspective, one has to distinguish between passive and active roles that a VMM may play. For example, to support the latecomer as described in the first scenario, a GUI-style interface will come to mind that will allow the user to browse through available memory contents. One may even represent memory contents as a structured hyper document so that an ordinary web-browser can be used to access the memory. An interesting addition to the browsing option is the use of animation for a kind of “fast history display”. A latecomer may see people entering and leaving the virtual meeting place, see who exchanges messages with whom and the like. As addressed by the Magic Lounge project, however, there may be users who do not have a graphical interface at hand since they have entered the meeting place via a phone only. In this case, the VMM needs to be queried by voice command or touch tone, and the VMM’s query results will be uttered using speech synthesis. To design interfaces for active roles is usually a more difficult task since whatever design is chosen, it must not be intrusive or even displease the users. For example, pop-up message windows most probably won’t be accepted by the users. As an alternative to such straightforward approaches, we aim at the development of a smart moderator agent in a later stage of the Magic Lounge project. The idea is to personify the moderator agent as a further conversation partner in the virtual meeting place. Among other things, this moderator agent will then be used as interface for the active VMM functions too. Notifications, such as “Remember, Lars has a preference for Asian food” are then brought into an ongoing conversation by the moderator agent just as a good friend of Lars would do if only he were present. As far as the phone user is concerned, reminders and comments by the moderator agent must be distinguishable as well. The use of a distinguished colour is one of the possible options to achieve this.

Another aspect to be addressed in more detail is the social dimension that comes into play whenever personal data about users are recorded, stored and interpreted. Clearly, the introduction of a VMM in a virtual meeting place raises questions such as: Where should information about user's be stored; locally or centralised? Who should have access to personal data such as event logs? Who is privileged to delete or modify personal user data? At which degree of abstraction need recorded data no longer be considered personal? Dealing with such issues must correspond to the users’ needs, and requires fine observations and analyses of their behaviour in new technological environments. Within our project both, participatory design studies achieved by Bernsen & Dybkjær (1998), Masoodian & Cleal (1999), and sociological studies complement our development work to determine precisely what the user’s needs are, and to what extent advanced technology may meet their expectations. Finally, the conception of a VMM also must take into account legal aspects which, in the extreme case, may lead to different conceptions in different countries. For example, if the management of a company located in Germany would like to use a Magic Lounge with a centralised VMM, it would necessarily require the permit of the staff representatives.


An earlier version of this paper has been presented at the 7th Le Travail Humain Workshop on Designing Collective Memories in Paris 1998. We are grateful to Detlev Zimmermann for his contributions to this work. Furthermore, we would like to mention that the work described here benefited from the insightful discussions during a series of Magic Lounge working meetings, which were held in Paris and Saabrücken.


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This article focuses on the construction of a shared conversation memory which will enable a number of new communication services for virtual meeting places. The contents of the proposed conversation memory emerges from communication and collaboration acts that have been observed in virtual meeting places. It is argued that the availability of a shared conversation memory has a number of benefits as it is in many cases critical to multi-party conversational performance and thus can significantly facilitate group conversations in virtual meetings. In a brief overview of related research we reveal that memory functions have been widely neglected in today’s systems and tools for hosting virtual meetings. We discuss in more detail which kinds of memory functions are desirable and what kind of technology would be required for their implementation. The background of this work is an European project in which we develop intelligent communication services for virtual meeting places.

Keywords : Shared Conversation Memory, Virtual Meeting Places, Communication and Collaboration Support

Same Time (synchronous)

Different Time (asynchronous)

Same Place

(co-located participants)

Collaboration with face-to-face interaction

Continuation of collaboration tasks

  • team rooms

  • group displays

  • shift work groupware

  • project management

Different Places

(remote participants)

Collaboration with real-time interaction over distances

  • audio and video conferencing

  • chat systems

  • transparent sharing of single user applications

  • collaboration aware groupware

  • MUDs (Multi User Dungeons)

  • media spaces

  • serves for multi-user virtual worlds

Distributed off-line collaboration

  • electronic mail (unstructured or semi-structured)

  • electronic bulletin boards

  • collaborative editing and maintenance of document archives

  • workflow management

Table 1
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Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

*German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI); Stuhlsatzenhausweg 3, 66123 Saarbrücken, Germany.

Email: rist@dfki.de http://www.dfki.de/~rist

+ Laboratoire d'Informatique pour la Mécanique et les Sciences de l'Ingénieur / French National Agency for Scientific Research (LIMSI/CNRS), B.P. 133, 91403 Orsay, France. Email: {martin,neel,vapillon}@limsi.fr, http://www.limsi.fr/Individu/{martin/neel/vap/}

1 The Magic Lounge system is being developed by the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), the French Laboratory of Computer Science for Mechanics and Engineering Sciences (LIMSI), the Natural Interactive Systems Labratory (NIS) at Odense University, and Siemens AG Munich. Two sub-contractors also participate in the project: The Danish Isles User Community, and for the sociological aspects Gradient – Université of Compiègne in France. The project started in July 1997 and is funded by EU's FET Long-Term Research as one of 13 collaborating projects in the so-called i3-action on Intelligent Information Interfaces. (Project homepage: www.dfki.de/imedia/mlounge)

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