Asymmetry in Media Spaces

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In any collaborative system, there are symmetries and asymmetries present in both the design of the technology and in the ways that technology is appropriated. In typical CSCW research and development, however, there seems to be more focus on supporting and fostering the symmetries than the asymmetries. Throughout more than 20 years of media space research, for example, there has been a recurrent theme - researchers pursuing increased symmetry, whether achieved through technical or social means. The research literature on the use of contemporary awareness systems, in contrast, displays little if any of this emphasis on symmetrical use; indeed, this body of research occasionally highlights the perceived value of asymmetry. In this paper, we unpack the different forms of asymmetry present in both media spaces and contemporary awareness systems. We argue that just as asymmetry has been demonstrated to have value in contemporary awareness systems, so might asymmetry have value in CSCW research system development, as well. To illustrate, we present a media space that emphasizes and embodies multiple forms of asymmetry and does so in response to the unique needs of a particular work context.