|The World-Wide Web, along with other Internet based services,
has emerged as a universal platform for information dissemination, sharing,
and computer-mediated communication. Internet services, however,
are not by themselves sufficient to successfully support the collaborative
requirements of human processes. What is required, instead, are Internet-enabled
integrated environments, tailored to the communication, information sharing
and coordination needs arising in the context of human cooperation [KRW96,MC94].
Therefore, it is a real challenge to explore and address, in the context
of the Web, the problems that led in the past to well-documented
failures of Computer-Supported Cooperative Work tools [Gru94].
In this paper, we address these issues in the context of Helpdesk (http://www.cs.ucy.ac.cy/helpdesk/) a Web-based system that we designed, developed, and deplored to support the activities of our research and instructional computing laboratories. Helpdesk is comprised of a Web-database of requests, replies and announcements, wrapped with a system to support collaboration among users, system administrators and lab technicians. The design and development of a Helpdesk system represents a real challenge for a variety of reasons, including:
Collaboration is supported through the navigational and full-text-search components implemented at the user-interface level. These components are integrated with the Web-database transparently to the user. Users interact with the system by navigating within and across its virtual spaces, following familiar navigational and interaction patterns found in successful Internet services, i.e.:
The architecture of Helpdesk (see Figure 1) is comprised of: a) a database built with Microsoft Access; b) Static HTML Pages and Active-Server-Page scripts for the front end, and c) the UNIX sendmail server for user notification on various events.
Figure 1 : The Architecture of Helpdesk
Helpdesk currently runs on a Windows NT server 4.0 and the Internet Information Server 4.0. The database can be easily upgraded to more sophisticated systems like Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server, since all accesses to its source are provided through ODBC calls. The Unix sendmail server has been chosen to distribute the mail notification, due to its stability and reliability. Into our future plans will be the transfer of the system from NT to Unix.
In our presentation, we describe: the steps we have taken to transform our knowledge about the human processes, work patterns and group dynamics [Per91] pertinent to our labs, into the appropriate navigational metaphors, virtual spaces, and modes of interaction, and the implementation thereof. Furthermore, the experiences gathered from the application of Web-database and ASP technologies in the implementation of Helpdesk services and its user-interface metaphors, and the effects of the Helpdesk system in the re-organization of our labs. Our experiences show that state-of-the-art Web-database and Active-Server-Page technologies represent a powerful tool for implementing the functionality requirements and user-interface metaphors of challenging collaborative applications. Furthermore, that the deployment of such systems can have positive effects on streamlining the human processes supported, building user confidence, promoting synergies among their users and, last but not least, supporting the collection, organization and maintenance of the collective knowledge developed about systems, services and processes of our computing research laboratory.