Thursday, November 15, 2007

Internet-based Communities

I mentioned an article about online communities and how the framework presented applies to the learning objects community. There were some other general points of the article that I thought I should follow up on.

Online communities tend to be successful or not in their own right, but well-designed software can facilitate an increase in productivity. With the many Web 2.0 tools available to us, along with pervasive connectedness, we see increased collaboration. It is becoming less necessary for communities to have to spend much time creating technology to suit their needs, other than simply choosing from many pre-existing tools and perhaps extending the tools' capabilities by mashing up with another tool. For a great matrix of tools that can be combined to form something new, see ProgrammableWeb's Mashup Matrix. For an awesome mashup example, see the Ad Generator, which combines photos from Flickr with components of real corporate slogans for moving, yet meaningless advertisements that you could spend an hour watching.

I thought it was interesting when de Souza talked about emoticons as symbols that take the place of body language and that some are close "to becoming a stable conventional symbol that can be universally understood by the computer literate population." Being involved in computer literacy myself, I would hope that the ethereal goal is not only to standardize upon symbols that computer literates can understand, but that our collective grandma could use also. That point is addressed in a way I hadn’t thought about before, when de Souza discusses how software designers communicate both directly and indirectly with their users. The direct communication is through help files and FAQs, and the indirect communication is how the designer works through the software to help users know how to interact with the system in order to achieve their goals. I might almost reverse those and call the help files indirect communication and the system interaction direct. Yes, a help system consists of the words of the designers directly handed to the user to explain what is going on; however, this communication only happens if something went wrong in the interface. The fact that someone is looking through the help means that something has broken down between the user and the tool. The user is knocked out of “the zone” and extraneous cognitive load begins to increase as the user has to try to figure out how to use the help system in order to help them learn how to use the primary system.

I’m actually interested in some of these design and usability issues as they relate to communities. The individual implications are important and factor into a lot of what I do for work, but the richness of experience that is gained through teamwork, especially as facilitated through the use of technology is very exciting with all the resources available to us now.

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