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Introduction to Caucus

What is Computer Conferencing?

Computer conferencing, also referred to as electronic or computer-moderated conferencing, enhances group communication. A computer conference is like a meeting except that participants need not be in the same place nor meet at the same time. Everything that everyone "says" is entered into Caucus and stored in the memory of the host computer. Later participants review what others have entered and may add further comments. This process can continue indefinitely. The computer, using Caucus, keeps track of all the meeting details, such as who has read which discussions and what new material has been added.

Conferencing is used to supplement live meetings, to replace meetings where timing is not critical, or to bring together people who ordinarily would have a difficult time getting together due to location or cost constraints.

Conferences are valuable sources of information. For example, a conference dedicated to discussing microcomputers is an excellent place to ask basic questions about what microcomputers are available and which are recommended. A conference can include people who otherwise might never have met, yet who can, via conferencing, share information and expertise.

A major advantage of conferencing is that members can participate at their convenience. Rather than arranging their schedules to fit meetings, users join whenever they wish. Conferencing also saves a lot of time. Participants can read much faster than they can listen and can skip over irrelevant discussions.

Compared to people at a face-to-face meeting, participants in a computer conference have a better chance to say what they want. No one can interrupt another, and there is no pressure to respond immediately. Users can think about their response before entering it. If they change their mind or learn that their statement was incorrect, they can update their comment.

A computer conference can be used to conduct a discussion among groups that would be impossibly large for face-to-face meetings. Everyone can be heard without shouting. There is no background noise from people commenting quietly on what the speaker is saying. If a smaller group wants to discuss another aspect of the topic at hand or an entirely different subject, they can start a separate discussion without interfering with the original exchange.

Computer conferencing is useful for decision making among groups of all sizes. By contrast, ordinary channels of communication often break down when more than two or three people are involved. Phone calls or messages (written or electronic) can quickly get out of hand as everyone tries to contact everyone else. Soon there are more messages than can be managed. A conference handles this explosion of information much more efficiently by organizing and documenting the entire group's input.

Conferencing can be remarkably bias-free. Participants are identified only by name and whatever identifying information they choose to give. Participants may not know each other at the beginning, and, in fact, may never meet face to face. As a result, many personal characteristics, such as race, gender, religion, age, or handicaps, are invisible in a conference.

What is Caucus?

Caucus is a software package which hosts computer conferences on your computer system. Caucus is not a service that you pay for by the hour; you buy a license to use Caucus on your computer the same way you buy a license to use a word processing or data base program. Caucus supports multiple conferences, and each can be open or restricted depending on the preference of the organizer of that conference.

Caucus is unique among conferencing software. Only Caucus runs on virtually any computer in the world, under any operating system. You can use Caucus on a personal computer, local area network, mini, super-mini, or large mainframe system. If your conferencing needs outgrow your current computer, you can move your conferences lock, stock, and barrel to a larger machine at your convenience.

Caucus was carefully designed so that novice users quickly master the basics. This means new users spend their time interacting with their group as opposed to trying to figure out how Caucus works.

This Caucus 2.7 User's Guide and the Caucus Menu User's Guide, in conjunction with each host system's Caucus Installation and System Manager's Guide, documents the extensive features of the text-only version of Caucus. These include sophisticated capabilities and system interfaces for managers and more experienced users who wish to extend their conferencing mastery. For information about the World-Wide-Web version of Caucus, see the Caucus 3.0 manuals.

Structure of Caucus Conferences

The following diagram provides an overview of how Caucus conferences are structured. Referencing this figure while reading the text will help you quickly grasp how Caucus conferences work.

Each computer system hosting the Caucus software can support an unlimited number of conferences. These conferences can be open (anyone who can access Caucus can access them) or private (restricted access). Each conference typically deals with an issue or focus of interest to its members.

Within each individual conference, input is organized into discussions consisting of Items, which are more specific topics, and Responses. Each conference can have up to ten thousand Items of varying lengths, with each Item identified by a title, number, author and date entered. Caucus automatically indexes Items by title and author. Items also may be grouped into subject categories.

Responses are the comments made by participants within each Item. Responses to an Item form linear chains which are added to the Items, one after another, as they are entered. The Responses can be compared to a discussion period - and it is this input that is key to creating a successful conferencing and communication environment. Each Item can have up to ten thousand Responses of any length.

Each Response also may have one "attachment". An attachment is a file of any size or type. A response in a discussion about finances, for example, could have an attached spreadsheet which the participants could view or copy.

Caucus also has a message facility (electronic mail). This may be used by participants who need to share private information which may not be appropriate to post within the group conferencing environment.

Conventions Used in This Guide

A word in italics means that you should replace it with a specific word or words of that type. For example, when you see the word conference, it should be replaced with the name of a particular conference.

In the examples in this guide, words typed by the user are shown in boldface. Output from the computer is shown indented and in different type style. For example:

This line is displayed by the computer.

When you are directed to press a specific key, the name of the key is contained between the symbols "<" and ">". For example, <RETURN> means "the key labeled RETURN on a standard typing keyboard".

All Caucus commands are shown in capital letters. You can use either capital or lower-case letters when you type a command. Abbreviations can also be used (Caucus prompts you for more letters if the abbreviation is not unique).

You must press <RETURN> at the end of every line that you type when you are using Caucus.

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Last modified: March 1997