A Brief History of Virtual Collaboration

To add to some of the history of MUD/MOO/MUVEs given by Warburton (2009), I will add here an information panel from one of my papers in IEEE Intelligent Systems (Tate et al., 2010) as it shows the history is not rooted only in game interests.

Tate, A., Chen-Burger, Y-H., Dalton, J., Potter, S., Richardson, D., Stader, J., Wickler, G., Bankier, I., Walton, C. and Williams, P.G. (2010) I-Room: A Virtual Space for Intelligent Interaction, IEEE Intelligent Systems, Vol. 25, No. 4, pp 62-71, July-August 2010, IEEE Computer Society.

A Brief History of Virtual Collaboration

While strongly influenced in recent years by advances in computer game technology, the origins of virtual worlds and their social networking aspects can be traced to research into multi-user persistent spaces that began in the late 1970s and explored object sharing and chat for collaborative systems, especially in the field of artificial intelligence. Adding object oriented programming to script or control the objects in the shared space expanded the possibilities. Dating from 1990, LambdaMOO [Wikipedia Entry] is one well known example of this type of multi-user, object-oriented virtual space.

Work in this area has continued, with the environments now being used alongside teleconferencing, videoconferencing, and instant messaging with agent presence and status information. A good example is the Collaborative Virtual Workspace (http://cvw.sourceforge.net/), originally built by MITRE between 1994 and 1999, that used a buildings-and-rooms metaphor for persistent storage of the documents and shared assets used in collaborations. Many videoconference support systems use the idea of setting up a virtual workspace “room” to give context to a particular presentation or meeting.

The foundations of the I-Room project, within the context of the wider I-X Research Program, lie in extensions to this idea to make use of intelligent planning and collaboration aids alongside CVW. These represent just a handful of the proposals that have appeared over the last decade that describe a room for intelligent team-based interaction or a room that could itself act as a knowledge-based asset for a group. Some of these concepts were explored in the Collaborative Advanced Knowledge Technologies in the Grid (CoAKTinG) project.


  • R.A. Bartle, (1990) “Early MUD History,” 15 Nov 1990, www.mud.co.uk MUD History
  • S. Buckingham Shum et al., (2002) “CoAKTinG: Collaborative Advanced Knowledge Technologies in the Grid”, Proc. 2nd Workshop Advanced Collaborative Environments, Advanced Knowledge Technologies (AKT), http://www.aiai.ed.ac.uk/project/akt/ (was previously http://www.aktors.org/coakting/) [PDF Format]
  • Warbuton, S. (2009) “Second Life in Higher Education – Assessing the potential for and the barriers to deploying virtual worlds in learning and teaching”, British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(3), 414-426.

I very much like the persistence aspect of Second Life/OpenSim and other virtual worlds meeting spaces/classrooms/operations centres. I don’t think this is captured at all by teleconference and video teleconferencing systems on their own, and even Adobe Connect with its resources, chat room and app sharing, etc. Though some systems like Mitre’s CVW did set up the rooms/buildings metaphor for that persistence of shared resources while layering video teleconferencing on top. CVW was used heavily by the US military for their distributed ops centres teleconferening. It also included IMPs.

So, to add to this note, I would specifically draw your attention to the Mitre CVW idea of IMPs (Intelligent Multimodal Participants) that could reside in CVW functional “rooms” to monitor activity, give assistance in the room, or relay information to users whose attention was elsewhere.


Michael Krutsch (1999) “IMPs Enhance Virtual Collaboration Environments”, The Edge, Mitre Corporation, Intelligent Human-Computer Interface, December 1999, Volume 3 Number 4.
[link no longer active at May 2016]

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