Yes, Jamie, AGORA-net allows synchronous and asynchronous collaboration on argument maps.
Overall, the software realizes the following features and functions:
- AGORA-net allows the construction of arguments and more complex argumentations—i.e., arguments with supporting arguments, counterarguments, and counter-counterarguments, etc.—in the form of graphical, two-dimensional representations, that is, in the form of so-called “argument maps.”
- AGORA-net is an interactive, completely web-based, and freely available learning tool that allows synchronous and asynchronous online collaboration. Being web-based does not mean that the software should only be used for distance learning. Quite the contrary: the online ability is rather crucial for face-to-face interaction in small groups where everybody contributes to what he or she can see on his or her laptop.
- AGORA-net provides three levels of “openness” or “privacy”: argument maps are stored, by default, in a private folder to which only the creator of the map has access. But they can be moved into restricted “Projects” that everyone can create and to which other users can be added as “members.” Or they can be published in the “World of Arguments” to which everyone on the web has access.
- Projects can be defined as either “collaborative” or “adversarial.” In “adversarial projects”—as on public maps—statements can only be modified or deleted by the user who created them. (Others, of course, can add further arguments or objections.) In “collaborative projects,” by contrast, everyone can delete and modify everything. This simplifies collaboration but works only if people can trust each other.
- Everyone can see public maps, but in order to participate in debates by adding objections, comments, or further arguments to existing statements, or to create new argument maps or projects, one has to register. Registration is required in order to differentiate between people who participate in debates or collaborations. Every textbox in an AGORA argument map shows the username of the “Author” because it must be clear who claims what.
- Registered users can copy every map they have access to under a new name. By doing so, they gain ownership of every statement on the map—including objections—and can modify and delete everything. If a statement has a “previous author,” this will be indicated in the respective text box (“PA”), and this author’s user name becomes visible when hovering with the mouse over “PA.” The map from which the copy has been created is always accessible, for everyone to see, through the button labeled “History.”
- If the user provided the URL of a homepage during registration, this URL will be visible and accessible for others when hovering over the username. This way users can contact each other outside of the system. But AGORA-net also offers a chat function so that instantaneous communication among users during argument mapping is possible.
- AGORA-net provides access to a virtually infinite number of argument maps and projects through a system of categories that are divided into sub-categories, and so on. (In the final version, users should be able to create further sub-categories on their own so that dynamic management of a large number of maps and projects is possible.)
- Every map and every project can be moved around. Maps can be published in the World of Arguments or moved into projects, and projects can be moved into a different category or into another project.
- It is possible to export argument maps of any size in Portable Document Format (pdf) via “Print” so that they can be either published in online repositories or printed as posters.
- At the moment, the AGORA-net user interface is available in English, German, and (partly) Russian. Further languages can easily be added if someone translates the entire user interface (about 7,000 words right now, but still growing). However, since logical relations are presented in ordinary language—not in symbolic form—and since the system creates statements automatically without using any artificial intelligence, it is not clear whether the system produces grammatically acceptable formulations in other languages as well as in English.