The idea that computer technology would provide a novel and powerful tool for 'knowledge work' dates back about as far as the digital computer itself. In his visionary 1945 essay As We May Think, Vannevar Bush outlined what we would now recognize as an IT-augmented desktop environment with 'windowing' and flexible referential linkages of the sort we now associate with hypertext (e.g., WWW). Although Bush's projections are commonly cited in introducing CSCW issues, he cannot really be considered the inspiration for the field, insofar as his perspective was primarily on the individual 'knowledge worker.'
If there is someone properly considered a "godfather" to CSCW and groupware, it must be Douglas ("Doug") Engelbart. He is credited with many of the innovations which now make computers easier to use, and he was involved in the creation of the earliest computer-supported meeting environment at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1960's.
It is Engelbart's overall vision of how computers can be employed in organizations which both sets the context for these individual achievements and establishes him as a key source of the ideas in CSCW. Engelbart's vision was one in which knowledge workers deal with information rather than with physical goods. In addition to manipulating and manufacturing data, they create knowledge of the task, of the means for achieving that task, and of the workplace. Shared information environments provide the milieux within which knowledge workers can augment as well as mutually pool knowledge. Some key features in Engelbart's vision are:
Engelbart himself has pursued this vision over the last 4 decades. His work at SRI led to development of a prototype system (called Augment) was developed, incorporating many of the communications / storage / retrieval / documentation functions which today we associate with email, hypertext, databases, and the like. Augment later served as the foundation for data services provided through Tymeshare, Inc., which even later was bought by McDonnell Douglas. Today, Augment is a component of the tools being applied by Engelbart's Bootstrap Institute in his ongoing efforts to investigate the ways in which organizations can implement shared knowledge environments and apply the results toward renewal of large American institutions (particularly corporations) (Engelbart, 1990).
Engelbart, D., A Conceptual Framework for the Augmentation of Man's Intellect, in Greif, I. (ed.), Computer-Supported Cooperative Work : A Book of Readings, San Mateo CA: Morgan Kaufmann, 1988, pp. 35-65.
Engelbart, D., Toward High-Performance Knowledge Workers, in Greif, I. (ed.), Computer-Supported Cooperative Work : A Book of Readings, San Mateo CA: Morgan Kaufmann, 1988, pp. 67-78.
Engelbart, D., and H. Lehtman, Working together, BYTE, December 1988, pp. 245-252.
Engelbart, D., Knowledge-domain interoperability and an open hyperdocument system, in CSCW'90: Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, Los Angeles: ACM, 1990, pp. 143-156.