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The second speaker at the SIG USE Symposium was Dr. David W. McDonald (note to self: read some of his papers), who comes from a background in HCI. His presentation, entitled “Issue of Scale: Mass Participation Computing”, gave us a glimpse of some of the cool projects that he worked on. He was a very lively speaker with a sense of humour. I was inspired by the ways in which live projects were implemented in existing “systems” (both online and offline) in order to gage participant’s reaction and feedback, and the fact that he is on faculty at Washington’s iSchool. His appointment reflects the truly interdisciplinary nature of what iSchools should be today.

He presents his projects in terms the theme of his talk, which is, how scale is transforming the paradigm of computing. What should be observed, studied and scrutinized in networks that represent an entire society? What types of questions are legitimate in such inquiries? How should the question be stated? And how should the results be evaluated and interpreted? We don’t know, but they sure make interesting inquiries and social experiments, as can be seen below.

Visual Conversations Online. Conversations online are becoming more and more visual, but wait a minute, do pictures really talk to each other? With enough critical mass of people participating on sites such as flickr and facebook just to name two big ones, there are definitely visual dialogues happening. An online picture sharing community was studied, observing interactions and engagement with each other. Artists and designers already know that images convey messages, but this study teased out the visual layer of conversations that are going on online that is not tracked by your typical datamining methods.

Proactive Public Display. At a conference (I think it was an HCI conference, probably no where else that you can implement this without at least one person freaking out), every conference participant was assigned a RFID tag on their badges. During question periods of any particular sessions, the faces of the indivdual stepping up to the microphone to ask question is projected onto a screen behind the speaker. Useful for people who don’t like to turn around to look at the speaker. The microphone also has a receiver for the RFID signal, which then overlays particular information about the person speaking, such as their name, affiliations, position, and other information that are readily available to all conference participants already. There were “social connection/network window” stations in the more public space, and anyone who was within signal range was plotted on a map projection, showing where they are based, as well as the social connections that they have with each other (think 6 degrees of separation, I don’t know how they got that info in the first place though). The findings from this experiment has many implications for public displays and ubiquitous computing, the results of which I’ll have to look up as he moved quickly on to his next cool thing.

Wikipedia Barnstars. (Link to PDF paper.) Wikipedia is probably one of the first example of a massive online community, and thus have a unique history of existence compared to other more recent and much larger online communities. Granted there are differences in the purpose they serve. A barnstars reward system was implemented on Wiki, to identify the type of work that is valued by members. The categories were developed iteratively, and refined by member suggestions, and became a framework for data-mining purposes. What they found was that 26% of the barnstars were given out to recognize the editing work that individuals do, but a equally substantial 24% felt that providing social support to other members was just as important. This is pretty awesome quantitative data to support what qualitative studies have learned about online communities, don’t you think?

Online “How to” Expertise. Just when I thought his presentation couldn’t get any better, he nails one of my research interests right on the head: How do people produce “How To” instructions on the web? And how do people find them? Some of his findings were not surprising, but there are new things learned (for me anyway). Simple technology is insufficient, as people use multiple technologies to facilitate the creation and consumption of “How To”s. There is a maintenance of control on the part of the instructor, in their decisions to limit their presentations to certain content, and what they decide to share. The physical or kinesthetic nature of learning “how to” do something is a major issues. Tacit knowledge cannot be conveyed online, which is a given. What’s interesting to me is how relevant this is to music education online, but perhaps I’ll have to expand on this at another post, after I’ve had time to dig up the paper in which McDonald talks about this study.

Next edition: Marcia Bates, the woman I had heard so much about.

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