Impacts of Computer Conferencing as experienced on IBM's IBMPC Computer Conferencing Facility

Davis Foulger
Dave Chess

IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center
P.O. Box 218
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598


Kerr and Hiltz (1982) propose a variety of potential impacts of computer mediated communication based on a Delphi survey of "experts". The present study seeks to identify actual impacts of computer conferencing based on three surveys of participants on the eight year old IBMPC computer conferencing facility, which currently attracts nearly 1000 contributions per day. Several of Kerr and Hiltz' hypothesized impacts were tested along with a number of newly hypothesized impacts suggested by IBMPC participants in open ended responses. Eight of the ten strongest impacts tested in the surveys come from the newly hypothesized impacts. Eight of the ten weakest impacts tested come from the Hiltz and Kerr hypotheses. The most important impacts were related to obtaining software, support, and high quality information in a timely fashion. The least important impacts were related to travel and working hours. The most important impacts are substantial, and bode well for the future of the medium.


If impacts are, as Hewes and Planalp (1987) suggest, the property most commonly linked to the definition of communication, it should come as no surprise that the earliest studies of computer conferencing as a medium of communication were strongly oriented to identifying the prospective impacts of the new medium. Hiltz and Turoff (1978) and Johansen, Vallee, and Spangler (1979), the texts that introduced computer conferencing and computer mediated communication to the field of communication as important prospective objects of study, are both heavily oriented toward identifying the prospective effects of the medium on individuals, organizations, and societies. This concern is easy to understand. A medium of communication that changes the environment of its users for the better is more likely to be successful than one that offers little that has not been offered by prior media.

Kerr and Hiltz (1982) provide what is probably the most complete distillation of the prospective impacts of computer media, including computer conferencing. Using the Delphi survey method, their book forms a number of of hypotheses concerning the probable impact of computer conferencing at on individuals, organizations, and societies. These hypotheses are based, however, largely on the conjecture of "experts", many of whom had only moderate experience with electronic mail, computer conferencing, and other forms of computer mediated communication at the time the survey was conducted. This study seeks to extend the work of Kerr and Hiltz by examining the impacts of computer conferencing as perceived by the highly experienced users of a large and long running computer conferencing facility.

IBM's IBMPC Computer Conferencing Facility

IBM's IBMPC computer conferencing facility is a large computer conferencing facility which has been in continuous operation since 1981 (Chess and Cowlishaw, 1987). It reached the lower knuckle of the S-shaped diffusion of innovation curve in early 1985, and has grown rapidly since. Growth in contributions to the facility (appends, in the vocabulary of IBMPC) before 1985 accelerated at an average of about 5 appends per week per week. Growth since 1985 has accelerated at a rate closer to 15 appends per week per week. There is no evidence, as yet, that the upper knuckle of the curve has been reached. Similar acceleration has been observed in numbers of contributors and numbers of topics (forums, in the vocabulary of IBMPC).

Current participation on IBMPC includes over 10,000 contributors, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 readers, approximately 3000 topics, and nearly 1000 appends per day. Contributors are scattered through dozens of countries on six continents and many large and small islands around the world. IBMPC's growth is built on a community of users who generally continue to use IBMPC for long periods of time. Indeed, most of of IBMPC's earliest participants remain participants today. The more regular contributors are well known to each other and to other participants on the facility. Indeed, the best known contributors to IBMPC may be among the best known individuals in the company.

This fairly stable base of highly experienced computer conferencing users seems to be a good place to test for the real impacts of computer conferencing on its participants and the organization in which they operate. One would expect such users to understand, from personal experience, how computer conferencing has affected them and the people they work with.

Three surveys

Just such a test has been conducted in a series of three separate surveys of IBMPC participants. The first, an informal survey conducted starting in 1984, was conducted on a forum called IBMPC BENEFITS, where IBMPC participants where asked to post open ended responses to the question: "What are the benefits of using IBMPC?" IBMPC BENEFITS continues to operate to this day. Its use for this study has been limited to identifying potential benefits of computer conferencing that had not been identified by Kerr and Hiltz.

The second and third surveys, conducted in the summer of 1986 and 1988, were administered more formally. Respondents were asked to assess specific effects that use of the IBMPC computer conferencing might have had on them. In 1986, ten of these questions were based on the hypotheses of Kerr and Hiltz. Three additional possible impacts drawn from the many entries that had already been made to the IBMPC BENEFITS forum. All thirteen of the 1986 "impact" questions were retained in 1988, with another eight questions added on the basis of open ended responses to the 1986 survey and additional submissions to IBMPC BENEFITS. Responses were made to a five point scale, which included the options "very strong impact", "strong impact", "some impact", "little impact", and "no impact".

The surveys were not restricted to these questions. Indeed, both surveys examined a variety of issues concerning IBMPC, computer conferencing, computer mediated communication, and their use. Other questions gauged user demographics, computer application and media usage, preferred improvements to IBMPC, valued characteristics of IBMPC, the community context of the IBMPC user community, and the media context of computer conferencing. A substantial proportion of these questions are repeated on the two surveys, allowing comparisons to be made between the 1986 IBMPC user community and the 1988 IBMPC user community. The 1986 survey included 87 questions. The 1988 survey included 112 questions. A total of 47 questions (54% of the 1986 survey; 42% of the 1988 survey) are common to both.

Survey Administration

The surveys were not administered identically. More emphasis was given, in the 1988 survey, to insuring representation of major demographic groups. In the 1986 survey a sample pool of 300 was identified and then surveyed. In the 1988 survey, a sample pool of over 13,595 IBMPC users was identified and classified on two key demographics (six classes of geographic location and nine classes of IBMPC use). Then a sample pool of 600 (4% of the sample pool) was drawn randomly, with at least 40 individuals drawn from each demographic group.

Scale of the sample pool

The sample pool, in both surveys, included:

The 1988 survey also distinguished those who receive notifications of contributions (informs) without having the contribution sent and five levels of contributors, including extremist (several appends a day), daily, weekly, monthy, and occasional appenders. The 1988 survey is also distingished from the 1986 survey by the size of the sample pool and the mechanics of survey distribution.

In the 1986 survey a pool of 300 potential respondents was used as both the sample and sample pool. In the 1988 survey, a sample of 600 was drawn from a sample pool of 13,595 IBMPC users. This difference in scale allowed more attention to be given to demographics. The sample demographics grouped users on two dimensions, including geographic location and IBMPC Use. It was not possible, and no attempt was made, to balance these two dimensions. Hence some demographic groups are over-represented relative to others.

Only three geographical groups were measured in 1986: United States, Europe, and other. Obvious increases in IBMPC use in New Zealand, Australia, Japan and elsewhere led to the use of six distinct geographical groups in 1988, overviewed in the following table.

Geographical Location 1988 1986
Size of Sample Pool Percentage of Sample Pool Number sampled Percentage of Sample Percentage of Pool Selected Percentage of Returns
United States 10273 75% 326 54% 3% 62% 94%
Canada 447 3% 49 8% 11% 8%
Europe 2151 15% 91 15% 4% 16% 3%
Central and South America 169 1% 42 7% 25% 5% 3%
Asia and Pacific 468 3% 51 8% 11% 6%
Middle East and Africa 87 1% 41 7% 47%  
Overview of Geographic Demographics The geographical demographics of the 1986 and 1988 surveys

A Chi-Square comparison of the 1988 survey returns against the expected returns by geographical demographics shows no significant differences (X**2=8.98 with 5 degrees of freedom), indicating that the geographic groups respond to the survey in roughly the same percentage in which they are sampled. Not unexpectedly, a Chi-Square comparison of the 1988 survey return geographical demographics against the expected returns based on 1986 survey return percentages shows a very significant change (X**2=332.95 with 2 degrees of freedom, p<..00001). While some of this change is probably due to changes in the sampling technique, it seems likely that much of the difference is the result of increased participation in the IBMPC computer conferencing facility among non-U.S. IBM employees.

The nine categories of IBMPC users are based on two non-exclusive classes of action: adding to IBMPC and accessing IBMPC data. Members of the sample pool were frequently found to belong to multiple classes, but were assigned to a single class. Users were assigned to first of the following classes to which they belonged, on the assumption that each level of action represented a greater commitment to IBMPC use than any subsequent, as seen in the following table.
Usage Categories 1988 1986
Size of Sample Pool Percentage of Sample Pool Number sampled Percentage of Sample Percentage of Pool Selected Percentage of Returns
Extremist 84 1% 40 7% 48% 4%
Daily 156 1% 40 7% 26% 4%
Weekly 703 5% 44 7% 6% 19%
Monthly 1786 13% 58 10% 3% 22%
Occasional 5204 38% 157 26% 3% 22%
Non-Contrib           23%
Subscribers 1943   92   5%  
Informs 656   46   7%  
Getters 196   40   20%  
Linkers 2866   83   3%
Overview of IBMPC Usage Demographics The usage demographics of the 1986 and 1988 surveys

Mechanics of Survey Distribution

The mechanics of the survey distribution also differ somewhat in 1986 and 1988. In the 1986 survey, a letter was sent to members of the sample pool asking if they wished to participate in the survey and, if so, what form they wished to receive it in. Three forms were available, including paper (a printed copy of the questionnaire sent by mail), softcopy (an electronic version of the hardcopy questionnaire, delivered and returned via electronic mail), and executable (a program, runnable on the IBMPC under PC-DOS, which presented the survey and saved the answers to disk). The executable was delivered, and the resulting output file returned, via electronic mail. Questionnaires were sent out as requests were received.

Pre-tests of the three forms of questionnaire indicated that the executable questionnaire was much easier to take than the softcopy or hardcopy. Users generally finished the executable questionnaire in 15 minutes, but required 20-30 minutes to complete the paper and softcopy versions. People also seemed to like the executable version better, although no formal measurement was made of this. Users had no way of knowing these results when the 1986 query letter was mailed out. Nonetheless, all but three of the 150 people who expressed interest in completing the survey requested the executable version, perhaps because of the novelty.

Similar enthusiasm for the executable form of the questionnaire was observed as the completed questionnaires were received. Indeed, a number of requests for the executable questionnaire vehicle were subsequently received from others who wished to conduct questionnaires. Answers returned from the executable questionnaire were also much easier to merge with the data set, as the returned data could be merged with the data set automatically, without direct keying. The first answer files from the executable started to appear within hours of the initial shipment of the executable version.

These results so strongly favored the use of the executable version that, in 1988, the mechanics of distribution were changed. Only an executable version was prepared initially. A softcopy version was only created after several requests (3 in total) were made for a non-executable version. No query letter was sent in 1988. Instead, the executable version was mailed electronically, along with a cover letter, to the entire sample.

There was no attempt to follow up on those who received, but did not complete, the survey in either survey administration.

Statistical Method for the survey data

Analysis of the impacts of the IBMPC computer conferencing facility as perceived by its participants has been restricted to:

Means and Frequency Distributions Simple, but effective, these measures provide the best indicator of the importance of different prospective impacts.
T-Tests Two forms of T-Test were required in the analysis. Measures of impacts were compared within each survey with paired comparison T-Tests. Questions duplicated in the 1986 and 1988 surveys were compared with population T-Tests. Although the .05 level seemed a reasonable criterion of statistically significant difference, no T-Test accepted as significant in this analysis failed to meet the .03 level.
Factor Analysis Apparent similarities in responses to these questions raised the possibility of an underlying perspective on the impacts of computer conferencing. Hence the SAS FACTOR procedure was used to perform a principle components analysis, with factors extracted if their eigenvalues exceeded one. Once extracted, the factors were obliquely rotated using the SAS PROMAX option.

Results: Individual Impacts

Twenty-one prospective benefits will be discussed here. The first table below summarizes the results for the thirteen benefits that were examined 1986. A second table summarizes the results for the twenty-one benefits that were examined in 1988. The twenty-one benefits will be discussed here within seven broad groupings, which are generally ordered from greatest impact to least impact. These groupings are:

The results of these surveys vary considerably. Some potential benefits of computer conferencing turn out to be considerable. Other anticipated impacts prove to be fairly unimportant. Indeed, for some prospective benefits the only significant indication of impact is the change between 1986 and 1988. The largest impacts, by and large, are among the prospective benefits suggested in either IBMPC BENEFITS or in the open ended responses to the 1986 survey. The smallest impacts, by and large, are found in the hypotheses suggested by Kerr and Hiltz, several of which are only supported when viewed over time. Among the thirteen prospective benefits measured in both 1986 and 1988, eight change significantly in the intervening period. Of these, seven move significantly in the direction of increased impact.

1986 Impact Related Variables Impact Level by Percentage N Mean St. Dev.
Very Strong Strong Some Little No Impact
Job related knowledge 25.8 33.3 26.7 11.7 2.5 120 2.32 1.06
Boosted morale 18.3 40.0 29.2 6.7 5.8 120 2.42 1.05
Increased productivity 10.1 26.1 48.7 10.9 4.2 119 2.73 0.94
IBM knowledge 8.3 24.2 42.5 20.8 4.2 120 2.88 0.97
Outside Group Contact 15.0 20.0 32.5 23.3 9.2 120 2.92 1.19
Increased Peer Contact 7.5 27.5 35.0 16.7 13.3 120 3.01 1.13
Changed thinking 2.5 15.0 46.7 26.7 9.2 119 3.01 1.06
Change way job is done 8.4 20.2 43.7 17.6 10.1 120 3.25 0.91
Communication Skills 1.7 10.8 35.8 37.5 14.2 120 3.52 0.93
Vertical Contact 5.8 6.7 15.8 39.2 32.5 120 3.86 1.12
Isolated from nonusers 0.0 2.5 10.0 34.2 53.3 120 4.38 0.77
Choose hours 2.5 1.7 10.0 22.5 63.3 120 4.43 0.92
Reduced Travel 3.4 0.0 3.4 14.3 79.0 119 4.66 0.84
1986 Impacts of Computer Conferencing Impacts of computer conferencing as measured in the 1986 survey of IBMPC participants. Table is ordered from highest impact to lowest impact, and displays both mean and frequency data.

Software and Support

The largest impact of conferencing in the 1988 survey is the availability of software that would otherwise be unavailable. This benefit is suggested in both IBMPC BENEFITS and the 1986 survey open ended questions. This impact ("Get Software" in :tref page=no refid=impact8.) is significantly greater than any other impact surveyed (minimum t=3.50, df= 1/175, p<.0003). This is the only benefit of conferencing for which the median response is "very strong impact". The importance of this benefit is underscored rather more emphatically, however, in the obvious relief of an Austin, Texas appender to IBMPC BENEFITS who writes in that:

I just had the terrible occasion to use Dave Mitchell's UNERASE program on PCTOOLS. Terrible because I had a real NEED to use it, not because of the program itself, which is actually quite usable, and fit my needs perfectly. Now thanks to Dave and thanks to IBMPC (where I found out about the program), I have recovered at least two weeks of my work.

********** T H A N K S ! ! ! ***********

UNERASE is, of course, only one of thousands of programs available on PCTOOLS (a dedicated software distribution facility that spun off of IBMPC in 1985). It isn't a program that anyone wants to use. When needed, however, its nice to have it available for immediate downloading. This nicety is clearly stated in a peculiar distinction of UNERASE. It is credited with no less than eight such saves on IBMPC BENEFITS, making it easily the most referenced program on the forum.

Immediate availability is hardly the only benefit associated with the software distributed on PCTOOLS. Another benefit, ranked fourth among the benefits surveyed in 1988, is the level of support that is frequently associated with these programs. According to a Yorktown Heights, NY contributor to IBMPC BENEFITS:

Programs that are placed on IBMPC are heavily tested by a large user community. IBM can be reasonably sure that most bugs are shaken out before an IBMPC program becomes a product. This is not the case in a normal Beta test - I know, because I missed a serious error in my testing of a ... product.

This contributor, a former software tester, is impressed by the quality of the programs that are available via conferencing. The direct interaction of software developers and a large group of users apparently results in many bug fixes and highly reliable code. This sentiment is echoed by a Poughkeepsie, NY employee in append 67 of IBMPC BENEFITS:

One of the things that amazes me about this conferencing disk is the willingness of the contributors to provide programs, information, EXEC's etc. and then to make changes to satisfy a user. If the price I have to pay for this kind of service is to provide some testing and info. on any problems, it's by far the best deal I've ever seen.

This append sums up what makes this software so special. Contributors willingly change programs to meet the needs of users. The only price of this service is the feedback of end users. Although the software is distributed via PCTOOLS, the process of feedback is generally conducted through forums on IBMPC. The value of this process and the resulting software is summarized in the second append to IBMPC BENEFITS:

Bugs in programs are found and fixed promptly. The library of internal programs has been of tremendous value. I am presently using many including PCTERM, MAILMAN, SWAP PRINTERS, Upload and Download programs, SCRIPT, etc.
1988 Impact Related Variables Impact Level by Percentage N Mean St. Dev.
Very Strong Strong Some Little No Impact
Get Software 47.7 33.0 13.6 3.4 2.3 176 1.80 0.96
IBM knowledge 26.6 40.1 27.7 3.4 2.3 177 2.15 0.93
Better Answers 21.0 45.5 28.4 3.4 1.7 176 2.19 0.87
Better Software Support 23.9 44.3 23.3 4.5 4.0 176 2.20 0.99
Job related knowledge 22.6 40.7 28.2 7.3 1.1 177 2.24 0.92
Change way job is done 19.8 34.5 36.7 6.2 2.8 177 2.38 0.96
Increased productivity 16.9 35.0 40.1 5.6 2.3 177 2.41 0.91
Answer Questions 18.6 38.4 28.2 10.2 4.5 177 2.44 1.05
Anticipate Problems 13.0 35.0 36.7 11.9 3.4 177 2.58 0.97
Personal Contribution 14.2 19.9 44.9 16.5 4.5 176 2.77 1.03
Boosted morale 15.8 26.0 34.5 11.9 11.9 177 2.78 1.20
Outside Group Contact 9.7 27.8 40.9 11.4 10.2 176 2.85 1.08
Increased Peer Contact 10.2 26.1 39.8 15.9 8.0 176 2.85 1.06
Product Development 7.9 24.9 36.7 16.4 14.1 177 3.04 1.14
Changed thinking 4.0 19.2 39.5 26.6 10.7 177 3.21 1.00
Customer Support 7.5 14.9 33.9 19.0 24.7 174 3.39 1.22
Communication Skills 4.5 12.4 35.0 32.8 15.3 177 3.42 1.04
Vertical Contact 3.4 11.3 37.3 29.9 18.1 177 3.48 1.02
Isolated from nonusers 0.6 4.0 23.7 32.8 39.0 177 4.06 0.92
Choose hours 1.7 5.1 13.6 29.5 50.0 176 4.21 0.98
Reduced Travel 1.1 1.1 13.6 18.8 65.3 176 4.46 0.85
1988 Impacts of Computer Conferencing Impacts of computer conferencing as measured in the 1988 survey of IBMPC participants. Table is ordered from highest impact to lowest impact, and displays both mean and frequency data.

IBM and Job Related Knowledge

The second and fifth ranked benefits in 1988 ("IBM knowledge" and "job related knowledge", respectively) describe the impact using IBMPC has on respondents' knowledge of IBM and the knowledge they need to do their jobs. Although job related knowledge is the stronger impact in 1986 (t=4.31, df=119, p<.00002), a significant increase in the impact of IBMPC in giving users knowledge of IBM between surveys (t=6.52, df=298, p<.00001) wipes out the difference. Hence these means do not significantly differ from one another in the 1988 survey.

Changing Employment Demographics

The change in the impact of IBMPC in giving participants knowledge of IBM probably reflects the increasing range of users that make use of the facility, including both an increasing use of the facility by marketing and customer support personnel and an increasing internationalization of the facility. Measures of employment demographics in the 1986 and 1988 surveys indicate, for instance, that participation of employees in marketing and customer support positions in IBM may have substantially increased between the surveys. (X**2=46.47, DF=5, p<.00001). In 1986 this question indicated that IBMPC was primarily a means for technical interchange between Research and Development types. Over sixty percent of respondents indicating that they worked in one or another of these areas:


Job Area. Frequency Percentage
Research 9 7.4
Development 67 54.9
Marketing 12 9.8
Manufacturing 6 4.9
Administrative or Personnel 7 5.7
Other 21 17.2
1986 Job Distribution Frequency and Percentage

By 1988, however, the relative influence of these groups had declined (see the following table) to 48% of respondents, a 14.3% drop in relative participation. Participation on the part of Marketing and Customer Service (including internal service) people increased substantially over the same period, from no more than 25% in 1986 to 41.9% in 1988.

Job Area. Frequency Percentage
Research 17 9.6
Development 68 38.4
Marketing 26 14.7
Manufacturing 6 3.4
Administrative or Personnel 2 1.1
Customer Service 21 11.9
IBM Internal Service 27 15.3
Divisional or Corporate Staff 5 2.8
Other 5 2.8
1988 Job Distribution Frequency and Percentage


Some of this change may be due to a minor change in measurement between the 1986 and 1988 questionnaires. On the basis of the 1986 survey results, the "other" category, which accounted for 17% of the 1986 responses to this question, was broken out into 4 categories in 1988, including Divisional and Corporate Staff (2.8% in 1988), Customer Service (11.9% in 1988), IBM Internal Service (15.3% in 1988) and other (2.8% in 1988). Growth in these categories (to 32.8% in 1988) may have been, in part, at the expense of Development estimates, as some who declared themselves as development lab support people in 1986 may have declared themselves as internal service people in 1988.

The change is more likely real, however. IBM engaged in a major personnel redeployment effort between 1986 and 1988 that moved many developers into marketing and customer support positions. Some of the more prolific contributors to the IBMPC were among those redeployed in this effort. It appears that, perhaps partly in consequence of this change, there is an increasing awareness of IBMPC among IBM marketing and customer support people, who increasingly use the facility to support customers, especially when the need is for a quick technical solution rather than an official company position. This use of IBMPC is the basis for several additional benefits of IBMPC use which are documented later in this chapter.

Another demographic shift between surveys is found in the relative participation of individuals that claim to manage or supervise other employees. Such participation appears to increase significantly between 1986 and 1988 (t=2.17, df=298; p<.02). There are at least two interesting interpretations of this result. First, it may be that management and supervisory people are now drawn to IBMPC because it contains useful content for them. Second, and perhaps more interesting, is the possibility that participation in the IBMPC computer conferencing facility provides an information basis for success, and that IBMPC participants are becoming managers or supervisors as a result. Neither interpretation can be rejected on the basis of either survey data or observation, and both may be correct. The change provides, in either case, yet another broadening of IBMPC's participation that may explain the increased impact of IBMPC in providing knowledge of IBM. :erev refid=draft3.

The I in IBM is International

A third broadening of IBMPC is found in an increasingly international participation that is documented in :tref page=no refid=geodemo.. Ninety-four percent of survey returns in 1986 are from U.S. employees. Only Sixty-two percent of survey returns come from the U.S. in 1988. Some of this apparent change can be attributed to variations in the sampling method. U.S. employees accounted for 75% of the potential sample pool in 1988, and are underrepresented in both the actual sample (54%) and survey returns.

Most of the change represents, however, a real increase in the use of IBMPC by employees around the world that can be observed in the number of international shadows of IBMPC, the number of appends to IBMPC by contributors outside the U.S., the level of participation in forums like NONUS FORUM, where IBMPC participants discuss the special PC problems and requirements encountered by IBM's international employees. IBMPC is strongly appreciated by IBM's non-U.S. employees like the Tel Aviv, Israel employee for whom IBMPC gives "the feeling that the I in IBM really does stand for International (otherwise we would probably be cut off being this far from the US)." For another employee:

Living in Finland, a scarcely populated country rather far away from the development/support centers often creates lack of information. IBMPC greatly helps in this situation providing timely information, source of useful tools, exchange of experience and solutions to problems encountered thus increasing productivity of new users of the PC family products.

The kinds of effects that IBMPC use can have on both job and IBM knowledge are well summarized by a New Zealand employee who writes in append 222 of IBMPC BENEFITS that:

A few weeks back I had to respond to an RFP from an NZ uni. ...

Due to another crisis I was given to manage ... I had precious little time to devote to the RFP. I took the plunge and sought help from a number of FORUMS (AIX RT VM ISTHERE etc:).

I have now become the country expert on University Applications, and IBM AIX development.

I have become so impressed with what I have uncovered thru FORUM contacts on AIX developments, that I am preparing a marketing Plan for IBM NZ to seriously review our attitude and effort in the low-mid/mid range market that is becoming dominated by UNIX here in NZ (NCR-Tower, ICL-Clan, UNISY HP etc: etc:). I am convinced that we have a broader and better offering in the UNIX market, than any of our competitors.

I had no idea how good we were here until using FORUMs to explore things like NFS, PICK emulation, CBS protocols, AIX connectivity, TCP/IP, etc: nearly all of which are IBM offerings and/or futures.

If we win this University - and I am very positive - it will be mostly due to support from FORUMS & contacts made thru them.

Jargon aside (A cust is a customer; an RFP is a cust request; a UNI is a university; gear is computer equipment; etc.) this appender tells us how he was able to quickly find information and a set of experts that helped resolve a customer request, using IBMPC. In the process the appender learned a great deal about IBM's product offerings and substantially improved his job skills, becoming "the country expert on University Applications."

IBMPC and the handicapped

This kind of improvement in job skills and knowledge of the company is hardly restricted to international employees, as we learn in an append to IBMPC BENEFITS from a visually impaired employee in Raleigh, NC:

For those unable to read the popular journals and other print media due to visual disability, the IBMPC facility is an invaluable aid in keeping abreast of current issues and products. The greatest single problem for those of us who are blind or severely visually impaired is information deprivation and any resource which assists in alleviating this situation is to be highly praised. While nothing can fully substitute for a quick browse through the ads in the back of one of the magazines, judicious use of this facility goes a long way toward keeping us conversant with what's going on in the field. Additionally, the support group which has been created informally by those who regularly monitor the fora is without peer. Whenever I've posed questions, I've always received prompt and helpful replies, sometimes within 10 minutes of my initial append. While I'm sure that the needs of the print handicapped weren't in the minds of those who originated IBMPC, it's nonetheless a very valuable service.

To be a one performer

The most valuable knowledge of IBM is ultimately knowing where one can get information when one needs it. For this visually impaired employee IBMPC provides a support network of peers who give "prompt and helpful replies". This support network serves all IBMPC participants, however, giving them a special base of knowledge that is documented if a Santa Teresa, CA employee's contribution to IBMPC BENEFITS (append 224):

The summer before last I served on temporary assignment as a course assistant in a Beginning Programming Education (BPE) class. Naturally I told many of the students about conferencing and how to do it. On the last day a third line manager ... gave them their final speech. He spoke about the changing nature of the business, the fierce competition, the need to work smarter and more productively. He ended by asking the students if they knew what it took to get a one performance rating. His answer: One performers know their jobs thoroughly. They also know everyone else's job in the department and what's happening at the site and in the company. And, he said, they all belong to an exclusive club within IBM. He asked if they knew what that club was, waited a few seconds, and said the IBM conferencing community.

IBMPC's participants are not alone in appreciating the benefits of IBMPC in educating employees. IBM's management has also noticed the impact computer conferencing has on job and IBM knowledge.

Obtaining information

The third ("better answers"), eighth ("answer questions"), and ninth ("anticipate problems") ranked means for impacts in 1988 all relate to the ability to find information on IBMPC. All of these benefits were revealed in the open ended questions of the 1986 survey. Two, "allowed you to find better answers to questions" and "allowed you to find answers more quickly", are concerned with the ability to ask for and obtain, or find by looking, information related to a specific question. One, "allowed you to anticipate problems", is concerned with having information before you need it.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this set of questions is the contrast between the impact of quality answers and fast answers. The most striking thing one observes in the explicitly information-finding forums on IBMPC, including ISTHERE FORUM and WHEREIS FORUM, is the speed with which people are able to obtain information that might have entailed substantial searching via alternative media. On IBMPC, answers on such forums frequently arrive within minutes of the initial append, and rarely wait more than a few hours, even for international participants like the writer of the following append to IBMPC BENEFITS:

About 1340 local time I fired off a request to IBMPC for a copy of a document not readily available locally.

At 1510 I had an acknowledgement from YKTVM that my append had been actioned and at 1513 the first copy of the document hit my reader followed within a few minutes by another response.

Within an hour and a half a request originating in the Netherlands had been answered from the U.S. and the document was in my possession without me leaving my desk. ... On other occasions I've had technical queries answered within hours from places as far apart as Australia, Italy and the U.S.

This appender not only obtains the needed information quickly, he receives several responses to the query. Multiple answers are fairly common on IBMPC, however, frequently giving the questioner a set of choices from which a good answer can be selected. One might reasonably ask, given the rapid availability of quality answers, which benefit is the more important. A contrast of "better answers" with "finding answers more quickly" shows that better answers are regarded more highly as a benefit of IBMPC. Users apparently feel that they get better answers from IBMPC, and that these better answers are of greater importance than the speed with which they are received (t=2.36, df=176, p<.01).

Even given the significant difference, however, both "find better answers" and "find answers more quickly" are fairly important. The median for both questions is "strong impact" with 67% of respondents selecting better answers as at least a "strong impact" and 57% of respondents picking faster answers as at least a "strong impact", with about 20% of respondents picking each as a "very strong" impact item, and another 28% picking each as being of "some importance". Less than 5% of respondents pick either as having "no impact".

The ability to find information on IBMPC is not restricted to the act of asking questions. There are many questions that have already been answered on IBMPC. Hence, in the words of a Purchase, NY contributor to IBMPC BENEFITS:

At least a couple of times a week I run into a problem that I just can't find an answer to. A problem of compatibility of two programs, compatibility of some pieces of hardware, a bug in a program, the potential of a piece of software to do what I need to have done; the list goes on and on. I can't find an answer until I go to the IBMPC disk and start searching ... and there it is ... the answer I needed.

One needn't necessarily go looking to take advantage of the archival information on IBMPC, however. All one need do is read the forums on IBMPC regularly. An Endicott, NY appender to IBMPC BENEFITS expands on this point:

Based on information found here (and either no where else, or not as soon), my cohorts and myself have: :ol compact.
  • Avoided certain software/hardware packages because of problems, conflicts, etc.
  • Acquired certain software/hardware packages because others have found them useful.
  • Recommended various PC related hardware, software, and documentation to other groups.
  • Avoided problems because we read about them beforehand on IBMPC.
  • The ability of users of IBMPC to "avoid" or "anticipate problems" because of their use of the facility represents another transition. The outcome is not significantly lower than "find answers more quickly (t=1.31, df=176, p<.10), but there is a trend. In fact, almost equal numbers of respondents (roughly 36% each) pick this as having either "some impact" (barely the median) or "strong impact", and only 48% of respondents regard this as at least a strong impact of IBMPC use.

    "Better answers" is not significantly different than other impacts in the second group of means. "Faster answers" is not significantly different from impacts in a third group of means. "Anticipate Problems" stands alone as a fourth level of significance in the 1988 impact results.

    Job Impacts

    The impacts presented up to here have, by and large, been fairly substantial. If real, one would expect these impacts to directly affect the way people work. Several questions in the 1986 and 1988 impact questions directly address this issue. Two of these questions are fairly general, asking users to assess the impact of IBMPC on their productivity and the way people do their jobs. Another two are fairly specific, asking about how use of IBMPC has impacted respondents by allowing them to choose their working hours and the amount of travel they do. :erev refid=draft4.

    Productivity and How One Does Ones Job

    For the two more general questions, IBMPC's impact on productivity and the way IBMPC participants do their jobs, the means by which IBMPC might have been implemented present an interesting contrast in expectations. The implementation of IBMPC as a "top-down" innovation (a formal or involutary innovation) with high level executives dictating that employees would use computer conferencing for certain modes of interaction, would result in very different expectations than would be expected from a "bottom-up" (voluntary or informal) innovation. These expectations are summarized in the following table:

    Impact Top-Down Bottom-Up
    Successful Unsuccessful Successful Unsuccessful
    Productivity Improvement, but may decline over time. No improvement. Improvement should increase over time. No improvement.
    Way job is done High short and long term impact. High short term impact. Low long term impact. Low short term impact. High long term impact. No impact.
    Mode of innovation and its expected effects "Top-down" and "bottom-up" innovations may have different effects on productivity and the way peoples jobs are done. A top-down innovation should have immediate effects on the way people do their jobs. If successful, they will result in productivity increments that may decline as management attention to use of the innovation is reduced. A bottom-up innovation may have little immediate impact on the way people do their jobs. If successful, however, it should have substantial and enduring long term impacts on both productivity and the way people do their jobs.

    Computer conferencing has grown up in IBM largely as a bottom-up innovation through the largely voluntary efforts of its participants. These participants have, from the beginning, included large numbers of managers, but the innovation has never attracted the kinds of formal resource commitments that have been associated with such management-driven (e.g. top-down or formal) innovations like IBM's SAA and CUA efforts or its use of videoteleconferencing. Participants in IBMPC, then as now, participated because they wanted to. It is only recently that large number of IBMPC participants could claim that reading and contributing to IBMPC was a formal part of their job.

    Responses to the questions concerning the impact of IBMPC on productivity and the way participants do their jobs are consistent with the expectations for a successful bottom-up innovation. :erev refid=draft4. In 1986, neither impact is particularly strong. 36% of respondents consider IBMPC to have had at least a strong impact in increasing their productivity, and 85% rate IBMPC as having at least "some impact" (the median) on productivity. By contrast, only 28% of respondents consider IBMPC's impact on the way they did their jobs as at least "strong" while 72% rate IBMPC has having at least "some impact" on their jobs. Productivity is a significantly more important impact than the way respondents did their job, however (t=4.35, df=119, p<.00002).

    The change in 1988, however, is tremendous, with both impacts improving significantly. The change for productivity is somewhat less (t=2.90,df=295,p<.003) than the change for the way respondents do their job (t=5.19, df=295, p<.00001), but the change in both is highly significant, and reflects a real change in IBMPC's impact on individual productivity and the way individuals do their jobs. Indeed, over half of all respondents in 1988 felt that IBMPC had at least a "strong impact" on both their productivity and the way they did their jobs. The means for these measures, which rank sixth and seventh among all 1988 impact means, do not significantly differ from each other.

    It was clear in the 1986 survey results that this participation was productive for many users, but it was equally clear that many IBM managers either didn't understand or didn't trust the innovation :erev refid=draft4. enough to let many respondents change the way they did their job in response to it. This has changed in 1988. IBMPC is now strongly affecting both productivity and the way people do their jobs, and having an equal impact on both. Users are no longer alone in feeling that IBMPC is productive for them. Their management agrees enough to let people adapt work patterns to the changes that computer conferencing, including IBMPC, has made possible.

    IBMPC BENEFITS' respondents are highly enthusiastic about the productivity effects of IBMPC. A Poughkeepsie, NY appender states in append 69 that "This new medium of communication is one of the most powerful productivity developments I have seen in my entire career." For a Rome, Italy contributor:

    To us living on the other side of the Atlantic, IBMPC has been the best thing ever; the first time ever we've felt as up-to-date on things as colleagues in the States, the first time we've actually been.

    It has made the PC, for us, from just another "good machine", into the greatest technical experience in our lives. There has never been a machine I knew that much about, never one I was so productive on. The merit (90% of it) must go to IBMPC.

    Variants on the word productive are used 36 times over the course of IBMPC BENEFITS, more times, perhaps, than any other word exceeding two syllables.

    Working Hours and Travel

    The two more specific job related questions come straight from hypotheses put forward by and Kerr and Hiltz (1982). The first comes from their second hypothesized behavioral impact on individuals, which proposes that (p. 112) "Computerized Communication creates opportunities for flextime and changes in personal time management." Although the panel used in Kerr and Hiltz strongly advocates the hypothesis, empirical support for the hypothesis was, at that time, mixed.

    It still is. When respondents were asked, in both 1986 and 1988, if their use of IBMPC had given them more freedom to choose their working hours, the results indicated very little impact. Only 4% of respondents in 1986 and 7% of respondents in 1988 indicated that this was at least a strong impact of IBMPC. 86% of respondents in 1986 and 80% of respondents in 1988 indicated that this IBMPC had no more than "some impact" in this area. The median, in both years, was "no impact", which drew 50% of the responses in 1988 and 64% of responses in 1986. Freedom to choose working hours winds up being the second least important impact of IBMPC in both years.

    These results can hardly be considered supportive of the Kerr and Hiltz hypotheses. Even if freedom to choose working hours can be considered an impact of conferencing, the impact cannot be considered large. The best can be said is that a small percentage of computer conferencing users may have felt they had more freedom to select their working hours. There is, however, a small but significant change in the results for this question between 1986 and 1988, with respondents feeling this to be a greater impact in 1988 than it was in 1986 (t=1.92, df=195, p<.03). Although the increase is small, and mostly indicates a shift from no impact to some impact, the change must be considered as support for the hypothesis, especially given the growth in conferencing use and the increases in other impacts that have already been documented. Hence one might want to restate the hypothesis somewhat:

    This revised hypothesis may be premature. Only time will tell if this becomes a major effect of conferencing. One suspects, however, that substantial changes in other aspects of the working environment, including company practice and possibly legal requirements, will be required before can might become a significant impact of conferencing.

    The second of these hypotheses proposes that "Computerized communication can reduce travel" (Kerr and Hiltz, 1982, p. 113). This hypothesis is justified by the supposition that computer conferencing could be used as a substitute for face to face interaction, "providing a continuous link without the financial and human costs of travel" (p. 116). As was the case for changing work hours, results for this hypothesis were mixed, with one study supporting the hypothesis, and one indicating that increased travel was as likely as decreased travel. The panel, however, strongly supported the hypothesis.

    The 1986 and 1988 surveys address this hypothesis with a question that asks respondents if their use of IBMPC has reduced the amount of business travel they do. Once again, the results of the survey give this hypothesis limited support at best. "Travel" has the least impact of anything surveyed, and has significantly less impact than even "working hours" (1986 t=2.02, df=118, p<.03; 1988 t=2.55, df=175, p<.006). Only three percent of respondents in either survey regard this as even a strong impact, while 93% of 1986 respondents and 84% or 1988 respondents regard this as being of little or no impact. The median is no impact (79% in 1986; 65% in 1988).

    The conclusion one reaches is that computer conferencing, at least in its current implementation on IBMPC, is similar to face to face meetings in some regards, but cannot be used as a substitute for many kinds of meetings, especially those in which participants will be expected to reach group decisions. It may supplement these meetings in important ways (and may reduce the length of a trip to a meeting as a result), but it cannot be reasonably expected that the use of computer conferencing will substantially decrease the amount of travel people do.

    The results of the 1986 and 1988 surveys, in showing that computer conferencing had almost no impact in reducing travel, are consistent with this conclusion in every respect but one. There was a small, but statistically significant, increase in this measure between 1986 and 1988 (t=1.95, df=294, p<.03). This change may represent a significant change in the importance of conferencing in this regard. Still, if one were to measure this again, one would almost certainly want to add a contrasting question asking the extent to which use of IBMPC had INCREASED business related travel. With the capacity that computer conferencing has for making people aware of the skills and knowledge of others, and the fairly low impact of IBMPC in decreasing travel, it is possible that the reverse effect might be more powerful.

    Making Contacts

    This kind of awareness, in the form of contact with others, was at the core of several other questions in the 1986 and 1988 surveys. These questions asked respondents the extent to which their use of IBMPC:

    The more important of these impacts, according to the results, are the first two. Each can be regarded as a moderate impact of IBMPC use. Neither measure differs significantly from the other, or between 1986 and 1988. Each has a median of "some impact", and has roughly equal numbers of respondents declaring "strong impact" or "little impact"; "very strong impact" or "no impact". Indeed, the effect is one of a somewhat flat normal curve, with 35%-40% or users in the middle, about 20% of respondents at each of the two first deviations, and about 10% of respondents at each of the second deviations.

    Together, these measures can be regarded as supporting the Kerr and Hiltz (1982) hypotheses that use of computer conferencing increases cross-group communication and lateral network linkages. This is an extremely important outcome, as it supports the contention that computer conferencing is a strong tool for encouraging horizontal communication:

    Although horizontal communication impacts are significantly stronger, the impact of IBMPC is not restricted to lateral contacts. When asked about the impact of IBMPC in increasing contacts up and down the company hierarchy, respondents indicated a weak but rapidly growing impact. This impact on vertical communication is not strong. Less than 15% of respondents indicated that this was a strong or very strong impact. Still, there is an impact. While only a quarter indicate that this is of at least "some impact" in 1986, more than half of all 1988 respondents credit this with at least some impact, and both the mode and median for this measure shift from little impact in 1986 to some impact in 1988. This shift is fairly significant (t=2.95, df=298, p<.002), indicating that, during the same period when management and supervisory participation has risen from 30% of participants to 40% of participants, the impact of vertical communication has become more important too.

    One should not make too much of this. Vertical communication is the fourth least important impact of computer conferencing in both 1986 and 1988, of very significantly less impact than lateral communication (relative to contacts outside immediate group, 1986 t=6.31, df=119,p<.000001; relative to peer contact, 1986 t=5.83, df=119, p<.000001; relative to both measures in 1988, t=5.65, df=175, p<.000001). Clearly, use of computer conferencing can increase all forms of contact, but its biggest impact is in creating a medium for informal communication between participants separated by interests, job responsibilities, and geography.

    A fourth measure of contact examines a Kerr and Hiltz (1982, p.104) hypothesis which states that "as addiction and heavy usage increase, they create distance or isolation from close relationships outside the electronic medium." To test this, respondents were asked to estimate the impact of IBMPC in isolating them from people who do not use IBMPC. The conditions of this hypothesis appear to have been satisfied by changes between 1986 and 1988. Use of IBMPC is significantly heavier in 1988 than it was in 1986. Other questions in the two surveys indicate a great increase in the number of respondents who spend 6 or more hours a week on computer conferencing, and a great decrease among those who spend less than an hour a week on computer conferencing.

    Viewed simply in terms of raw change between 1986 and 1988, this hypothesis is also supported (t=3.33, df=298, p<.0005), and with an effect that is directly proportional to the increase in use (the comparison of 1986 computer conferencing hours with 1988 computer conferencing hours is an almost identical t=3.38, df=298, p<.0005). One may not want to make too much of the increase, however, as the actual impact is quite low. This is the third least important impact in both 1986 and 1988. The median, in both years, is "no impact", and fewer than 5% of respondents in either survey regard it as so much as a strong impact. In 1986, 87% of respondents rate this as having no more than "little impact". In 1988, 72% of respondents have the same opinion.

    Perhaps, in IBM, this potential problem has resolved itself as computer networks become assumed elements of the communications landscape, as ubiquitous and taken-for-granted as journals, letters, and telephones:fnref refid=bezklei.. Then again, perhaps it was simply never a major problem. It may be that the effect of computer conferencing has not been to take anything away from participants, but rather to give them something more. Hence just as the telephone offered new vistas for conversation with people one doesn't normally talk to without necessarily reducing opportunities for talking to people in ones local community, so computer conferencing may have simply opened new windows of opportunity, with very little derogation of the communication channels that are already available. :fn id=bezklei.Paraphrased from Bezilla and Kleiner (1980).:efn.

    Impact on IBM Products and Customer Support

    It seems clear, from the results outlined so far, that IBMPC has had a strong impact on a variety of things that should help people do their jobs better. It has given them access to software and information. It has allowed them to get better answers to questions, to get those answers more quickly, and even have the answers to questions before they knew they had a question. It has improved their contacts within the company, across both geographical and organizational barriers. It has changed the way they do their jobs, and apparently in the direction of greater productivity. One might ask, however, if it has improved the final product of IBM, the products IBM produces and the support it offers its customers.

    Two questions, each suggested by both open ended responses to the 1986 survey and appends to IBMPC BENEFITS, directly pose this question. Hence 1988 respondents were asked the extent of IBMPC's impact in:

    The results indicate that IBMPC has had at least a moderate impact in each area. Specifically, over half of all respondents (56%) indicate that IBMPC has indeed been of at least some impact in aiding IBM's support of customers, and nearly three quarters (70%) of respondents feel that IBMPC has aided the development of products. In both cases, "some impact" is both the median and the mode. Respondents seem to feel that the larger impact has been on the development of products (t=2.74, df=175, p<.004), but both remain moderately important impacts.

    Customer Support

    The extent of the impact is better expressed, perhaps, in the comments of appenders to IBMPC BENEFITS. One such appender, a Boca Raton employee, recounts the value of IBMPC in resolving a customer problem:

    In the first few days of my new job as systems engineer in a department primarily supporting PC products, I was assigned to find out how to project on-screen EGA graphics for presentations. A short append to ISTHERE FORUM drew a quick response from our loyal IBMPC'er Ben Strong. I was consequently able to pass along the information to the customer thus saving hours of research for IBM and the customer and enhancing IBM's image of providing prompt and effective service to the customer.

    Another specific instance of resolving a customer problem is detailed in append 136 of IBMPC BENEFITS, which comes from a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania contributor:

    My customer at a large electronics manufacturer experienced considerable difficulty installing his XMA and 1M add-on (FC 3355 and 3360) to his 5273 Mod 062. The procedure for "jumping the board" to restrict planar board memory to 256K and then properly configure with INDCFIG and DOS SETUP is not very intuitive.


    I had checked EQUAL, read a long book and many Ivory letters and made 10 phone calls, all to no avail, prior to my simple ISTHERE query. Because of IBMers ..., Forums like PC3270, and the IBMPC Conference, I was able to reach out to 405,000 IBMers, well beyond the "normal" support structure and help a struggling customer. His reaction, beyond being thrilled to have this problem behind him, was to say "I had no idea you people had a way to get through to your engineers so easily. No one else does."

    It's Broadcast Time

    For a communications medium that depends on the financial support of the corporation that uses it, these examples illustrate an important benefit. There may be nothing new in style of support given. All of these examples, in fact, represent fairly simple uses of computer-mediated query (a distinctive genre of computer conferencing interaction which is explored by FOLGER, 1990). Still, they represent an indirect economic contribution that the facility makes to IBM's bottom line, and that helps to insure the facility's own continued viability. Other marketing support examples on IBMPC BENEFITS are similar in style, but at least one stands out, as it documents the use of computer conferencing in support of another broadcast media. As a Boston, Massachusetts contributor tells us:

    I just wanted to thank all of you who replied to my call for help in getting information about the EGA to allow a TV production company to sync their cameras to an EGA monitor. If you're watching Spenser for Hire at some point later this season and see what looks like an IBM PC/AT with an EGA, you'll know where it came from. Once again, these forums prove their incalculable worth to our all ought to be very proud of yourselves!

    Product Development

    IBMPC may, however, have had an even more profound impact on IBM in the area of product development. A number of appends to IBMPC BENEFITS document the contribution of IBMPC to various products. Sometimes the contribution is indirect, with IBMPC playing a supporting role. Other times the IBMPC community played a critical role in the product development process. In append 113, for instance, a Charlotte, North Carolina employee recounts the indirect role IBMPC contributors played in the announcement of IBM's highly successful proprinter product development:

    IBMPC aided the product planning process for the recently-announced Proprinter XL.
    1. Product management had an awareness of the current product's pluses & minuses through PROPRINT FORUM.
    2. FX-85 FORUM told me how a major competitor's product was perceived.
    3. WHOSWHO FORUM gave me an idea of who would be candidates for beta-test subjects, by browsing the list for keywords like PC, printer, etc.
    4. MARKETIN FORUM gave me a list of marketing contacts, worldwide, whom I polled via PROFS about specific customer applications and their most-common sizes of forms used.
    5. IVORY INDEX kept me informed about what the other divisions were announcing.

    In append 182, a Lexington, Kentucky contributor attributes an even stronger supporting role to IBMPC participants in the development of IBM's Personal Typing System:

    IBMPC was invaluable in getting this product out the door. For much of the early part of the program, we could not get manuals for the Model 30 the machine is based-on. IBMPC was our manual.

    DOS3 FORUM told us how to detect disk swaps

    INTPROB FORUM and others told us how to do hot-keying

    SYSTEM2 FORUM and SYS2-M30 FORUM were helpful

    AUTOMATI FORUM, QUALITY FORUM, and SUPERIOR FORUM helped us with ideas on how to get the software developed quickly and with high quality

    TURBO FORUM helped us use Turbo Pascal

    AMIGA and MAC FORUM helped us know what the competition was doing

    USRFREND and other FORA helped us with user interface ideas, as did a paper we received from Yorktown on the development of PCTOOLs such as FILEMAN.

    Other Fora helped encourage us to use an iterative development approach, with lots of contact between programmers and real users

    PEOPLE from IBMPC helped us convince our management to let us use Turbo Pascal, by sending notes about how productive they had been with it.

    OTHER PEOPLE we met in the FORA helped us one-on-one with some of our problems in hot-keying and PS/2

    SAA FORUM told us SAA existed (we wouldn't know otherwise) and helped us to understand what SAA will (and won't) be

    MARKETIN FORUM taught us how marketing works, and helped us understand how our product would be perceived and sold in the marketplace

    TOOLS we downloaded from PCTOOLS such as PCMON, GFIND, and others helped us develop software

    You get the idea...

    THANK YOU, all the folks that helped us and answered our questions!

    The impression one gets from this append is that the IBMPC conferencing facility was a key tool in making the product happen. There were clearly a wide variety of forums, tools, and people that impacted their efforts. Compared to the use of the facility in the development of the PC/VM Bond program product documented by an Endicott, NY contributor in append 55, however, Lexington's use of IBMPC seems weak:

    Well, I was not going to do this, 'cause I just KNOW I can go on and on and on.... The IBMPC database is unique and irreplaceable. Without it there would be no PC/VM Bond. I would not have been able to perform to the levels I have for the last 3 years (golly, has it been THAT long already??), and several projects with which I have been associated would not be where they are today.

    I can do specifics all night, but let me just endorse all the previous comments and add two quickies. First, the PC would not be what it is becoming if we did not have a mechanism to share data. Not everyone sees the direct benefits of IBMPC, but when you can get a technical or administrative answer in minutes without knowing who in the world (pun intended) to ask, then something has really been accomplished.

    Secondly, I believe that the ability to submit programs to a common internal "pool" and have hundreds to thousands of test users in days is just fantastic. This should be a requirement for every single software product this company puts out. NO WHERE can a better set of test users be found. We may complain at the NUMBER of bugs they find, and God, do they find them, but better internals than externals. ...

    I am not known for profound statements, but the value of this facility to me previously as a Systems (design) Engineer, and now as a Product Planner can literally not be expressed in words.

    Personal Impacts: Making a difference

    In the process of documenting IBMPC's impact on a product, this appender reveals an equally strong impact of IBMPC on the individual within the organization. Four such individual impacts are tested in the surveys. Three of these are tested in both 1986 and 1988. One is new in 1988.

    The first of these, based loosely on the Kerr and Hiltz (1982, p. 94) hypothesis that "literacy and information processing abilities improve", seemed particularly promising given IBMPC's large international audience, which seemed likely to feel that improvement of English language communication skills was a strong impact of IBMPC use. The results of asking respondents about the impact of IBMPC in improved communication skills do not strongly support the hypothesis, however. Roughly 70% of respondents, in both years, estimate either little (barely the 1986 median) or some (barely the 1988 median) impact on communication skills, and the remaining respondents evenly split between no impact or strong to very strong impact. Even with a major infusion of international respondents in the 1988 survey, moreover, this measure shows no significant change. Language skills clearly are an important impact of IBMPC for some users, but it is clear that these skills are not among the most important impacts of computer conferencing in IBM.

    A more interesting question, also suggested by hypotheses in Kerr and Hiltz (1982, p. 95), asks about the impact of IBMPC in changing the way the respondent thinks. This question is loosely based on the following hypotheses:

    Support for these hypotheses is significantly stronger than was the case for communications skills (In 1986: t=3.94, df=119, p<.00007; in 1988: t=1.93, df=176, p<.03). The mean for this measure does not, moreover, change significantly between 1986 and 1988. The median and mode in both years is "some impact", which draws at least 40% of responses in both surveys. A somewhat larger number of respondents (about 35% in both surveys) estimate little or no impact than estimate (about 20% in both surveys) strong or very strong impact.

    Stronger support is evident for an impact that is suggested by the 1988 survey results, the impact of IBMPC in allowing the respondent to make a personal contribution to the company. This is a significantly more important impact than is "changes to thinking" (t=4.02, df=175, p<.00005). 34% of respondents rate this as at least a "strong impact", and 79% rate it as being of at least "some impact". Only 20% of respondents rate this as having little or no impact.


    A related measure of IBMPC's impact on individuals is based on numerous 1985 entries to IBMPC BENEFITS, including the following contribution by a Yorktown Heights, NY participant:

    I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned the value of IBMPC (and the other teleconferencing disks such as IBMVM) to employee morale. Of course, it's implicit in many of the preceding success stories that IBMPC facilitates teamwork. The point, though, should be made explicit to corporate planners in the realm of personnel. Somebody out there is in charge of spending megabucks to build corporate elan. How many millions does IBM spend for benefits such as family picnics, IBM Club activities, and the like? Wisely so: when you work for IBM, you get the feeling that you're part of something. Right?

    Now, all unwittingly and as a by-product of activities that are thoroughly justified on many other grounds, we've invented the ultimate employee tie: an intercontinental coffee break. Sure, you bet it enhances our productivity and all that, but also, it's fun. It's an awesome thing to be a part of.

    The sentiment of this append is immediately re-enforced in IBMPC BENEFITS append 61 by a Wappingers Falls, NY employee who writes:

    I must applaud the append re Employee Morale. I think that in the long run this might be one of the more significant benefits. I have over 25 years with Big Blue and although people kid about the old days, the song books, etc., what can't be denied is that IBM had an esprit de corps that was second to none and the envy of most. I thought that the changes over the last ten years had eliminated much of that but IBMPC is a significant factor in restoring my own morale.

    The importance of the IBMPC conferencing facility in creating a new employee morale in IBM cannot be underestimated. When a person asks a question on IBMPC and gets an immediate response from someone else in the corporation -- often someone they've never met or even heard of before -- they have to come away from that encounter feeling more personally involved in the company then they were before. They obviously matter. The person who is quickly able to answer a question via IBMPC also comes away from the encounter feeling better about the company. They have been able to solve a real problem, save someone real time, and have made an observable contribution to the IBM community. If, as often happens, they eventually receive thank yous from other people for their answer, the effect is only intensified.

    Those who only observe the interchange get something as well, for in the successful resolution of a problem across the network (and often across continents), they see visible evidence that the company really works. IBM is, by any measure, a very large organization. It is easy, in an organization as large as IBM, for people to lose track of all the pieces or even a feeling that the organization is working together. But when one can watch people from widely separated parts of that organization solve real problems for each other in real time, one cannot help but come away feeling that we really are working together towards the same goals, regardless of our placement in the organization or location in the world.

    Hence it should be little surprise that morale is a fairly strong impact of IBMPC. In 1988, 42% of respondents report that IBMPC has had at least a strong impact in improving their morale, and 78% of respondents report that it has had at least some such effect. There is, however, a significant decline in this impact between 1986 and 1988 (t=2.76, df=298, p<.004). In 1986, 58% of respondents credited IBMPC with having at least a strong impact in this area, and 88% felt that IBMPC had at least some impact in improving their morale.

    One must conclude from these results that the individual impacts of IBMPC are somewhat stronger than its business impacts. Interestingly, however, the personal impacts that concern the company business, ability to have a personal impact on the company through IBMPC and the individuals morale, are more important to respondents than more broadly individual impacts such as the way respondents think and their language skills.

    The Impacts of IBMPC in aggregate

    The variety of these impacts can be misleading. Indeed, it appears that almost all of these questions are affected, to a certain extent, by a general feeling, which varies among participants, about the impact IBMPC has had on them. This general impact of IBMPC is exposed in separate factor analyses of 1986 and 1988 data which yield obviously identical results, even with the addition of eight new impact questions in 1988. In both years a single factor is identified. In both analyses this factor accounts for 39% of the combined variance in the variables. Almost all of the impact variables load to this single factor. Those that do not are, without exception, among the least important impacts of IBMPC. Even those impacts can attribute a reasonable fraction of their variance to this factor.

    The strength and recurrence of this factor, which can be seen in both its 1986 and 1988 variants in :tref refid=impactf., suggest that together, the impact questions measure a single general feeling of the benefits that IBMPC participants have experienced in using the facility.

    Impact Variable 1986 1988
    Answer Questions   .78 *
    Better Answers   .77 *
    Change way job is done .82 * .76 *
    job knowledge .75 * .73 *
    Increased Peer Contact .73 * .72 *
    boosted morale .65 * .71 *
    Outside Group Contact .67 * .71 *
    increased productivity .75 * .68 *
    Personal Contribution   .66 *
    IBM knowledge .56 * .66 *
    Changed thinking .68 * .66 *
    Anticipate Problems   .65 *
    Vertical Contact .62 * .65 *
    Better Software Support   .63 *
    Communication Skills .64 * .57 *
    Customer Support   .49
    Reduced Travel .23 .47
    choose hours .40 .45
    Get Software   .43
    Product Development   .39
    Isolated from nonusers .30 .28
    Single factor extracted for 1986 and 1988 Impacts of IBMPC Unrotated results of separate principle factor analyses of the 1986 and 1988 Survey's Impact Data

    One gets the feeling, in reading through the benefits of conferencing that are recorded in IBMPC BENEFITS, the real effect of computer conferencing has been to effectively shrink one of the world's largest corporations "to a size", in the words of a Thornwood, NY contributor in append 62, "that is very comfortable to live with." Hence append 60's "intercontinental coffee break" is in some sense just that, a world wide informal communications network that allows people to meet each other, learn about the things each cares about, and solve each other's problems.

    Whatever other purposes computer conferencing may serve in IBM, its first purpose is simply that of allowing people to talk to each other. The informal communication of IBMPC spans buildings, cities, states, countries, continents, and IBM divisions that previous informal communication media could never bridge as well before, providing people with new ways to meet and talk with each other. Indeed, if informal communication is functional, the simple fact of providing "the intercontinental coffee break"; of providing an informal communication medium that breaks the bounds of propinquity, ought to ensure that other benefits will follow. This, perhaps, explains the enthusiasm of a Yorktown Heights, NY employee in append 83 to IBMPC BENEFITS:

    In my 21 years at IBM, I think "conferencing" is our most important accomplishment.

    Why do I think this?

    "Conferencing" allows me to talk to the "world".

    "Conferencing" allows me to listen to the "world".

    "Conferencing" allows me to communicate with the "world".

    The Impacts of IBMPC in perspective

    It seems clear that the use of the IBMPC computer conferencing facility has had a strong impact on its users, especially in such areas as the tools and support respondents have available to them (software and information), their productivity, the way they do their jobs, their knowledge of both IBM and their jobs, and the way they feel about the company. It is clear from the results documented in this chapter that the existence of IBMPC has changed the human environment of its participants and the company they work in for the better.

    One concludes, then, that the experience of computer conferencing on IBMPC has been an extremely positive one, filled with a variety of benefits that cannot be anticipated except in the use of the medium. Indeed, if in conducting these surveys we had restricted our investigation of impacts to to those suggested by prior literature, especially the synthesis offered by Kerr and Hiltz (1982), we would have missed almost all of the most important impacts of the IBMPC computer conferencing facility. Of the ten most important impacts of IBMPC, eight are suggested not by the literature, but by participants on the facility. Of the ten least important impacts, eight come, either directly or indirectly, from the literature.


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    Foulger, D. Medium as Process: The structure, use, and practice of computer conferencing on IBM's IBMPC Computer Conferencing Facility. Doctoral Dissertation, Temple University, 1990.

    Hewes, D. and Planalp, S. The Individual's Place in Communication Science. In Berger, C., and Chaffee, S. (eds). The Handbook of Communication Science. Newbury Park, CA; Sage, 1987, pp. 146-183..

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