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An Investigation of the Productivity Difference in Mechanical Embodiment Design Between Face-to-Face and Threaded Online Collaboration

[+] Author Affiliations
Jing Zheng, Mark J. Jakiela

Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO

Paper No. DETC2009-87070, pp. 1173-1182; 10 pages
  • ASME 2009 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 2: 29th Computers and Information in Engineering Conference, Parts A and B
  • San Diego, California, USA, August 30–September 2, 2009
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division and Computers in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4899-9 | eISBN: 978-0-7918-3856-3
  • Copyright © 2009 by ASME


The threaded online, also known as “forum,” collaboration method is widely used by open source software projects. As open source and Crowdsourcing [3] design approaches gain attention, there is a need to explore whether the threaded online method would compete with the more traditional method, face to face, in mechanical engineering design in terms of productivity. Our experiment shows that with a suitably sized challenge, the threaded online method does generate about equal productivity as the face-to-face method. However, the participation rates are lower in the threaded online method and the participants’ satisfaction with the experience was also less. This suggests that additional communication mechanisms are needed to facilitate the threaded online method, and management mechanisms should be imposed. We also identified two phenomena that warrant further investigation. The first is what we call “inertia loafing.” Enthusiasm among online community members is fragile. A small drop in satisfaction level can cause many to become unwilling to participate. The second is that an online community tends to have two kinds of members: “players” who are responsible for most content creation; and “cheer leaders” who provide feedback or provide an assisting function.

Copyright © 2009 by ASME
Topics: Design , Collaboration



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