PERSoNA News

Personal Engagement with Repositories through Social Networking Applications

Web 2.0, jargon and user engagement

Posted by Nick on May 29, 2008

As referred to in Repository News I am currently formulating questions to gather preliminary user information for PERSoNA and am finding that the process, though difficult, certainly focusses the mind. The cardinal rule for questionnaire building is first to decide precisely what information one wishes to capture. At this time my brief is to select “a representative set of social networking applications” and ensure that “key stakeholders [are] in agreement with [the] set of applications to be used? Are they familiar with them? Do they use them in other environments on a regular basis?” (from our evaluation plan)

My initial attempt at a questionnaire was far too generic, referring to social networks; blogs; wikis. Dawn was quick to point out that, generally speaking, people respond better to specifics than generics; ask someone if they use butter or margarine they may not be sure but give them a list of brand names and the task suddenly becomes much easier.

So, do you use Web 2.0 technologies? Surely a question with vastly more heterogenous implications than butter or marge; your answer will depend on what precisely you understand by Web 2.0 (which it has been persuasively argued is little more than a buzzword in any case.) And, anyway, what is the definition of “use”? You may read blogs but does this constitute “use”? You may even comment occasionally but is this fundamentally any different from sending a letter to the editor of your local newspaper? You may of course keep your own blog but perhaps even this is not unambiguous use of Web 2.0 and depends on what the blog is for, what your individual perspective is on Web 2.0/web based communication, the access level of your blog, your skill as a writer…even your character. Is the blog your platform to communicate to the world or just a relatively private space for you and a few enthusiasts?

Moreover, different individuals will access blogs, news – information – on the web in different ways, via different routes and ultimately, are probably not that interested in the media-frenzy kicked up around Web 2.0 and social networking – they simply want to access information and connect with friends, family, colleagues and like-minded strangers in the most convenient way they can and for many this happens to be the web and associated technologies. For example I use iGoogle and Google reader for RSS feeds from the various blogs I like to keep an eye on and will tend to read the posts within Google reader and not actually visit the individual blogs at all – unless I want to leave a comment. If I follow a link to another blog I like the look of I will paste the feed URL back into Google reader and may never actually visit the site again. Other people will use entirely different applications and approaches to follow their own information path but surely the beauty of Web 2.0 – whatever it is – is it’s endless possibilities for personalisation and individuality. (I also read the newspaper though I have never written a letter to the editor; I still might; I am after all still relatively new to blogging!)

With any nascent technology (or established technology for that matter) there is the problem of the terminology developed and used by devotees and how this may be (mis)understood by the end user. I have found myself, for example, using the term “collaborative tool” which could include forums and messageboards – boring old Web 1.0 technology many might argue. Perhaps the wiki is the new forum, editable by anyone and unlike a forum not based on a flat file structure and allowing for tagging and none-linear navigation. Once again there is the problem of defining “use” – ask the end-user if they “use” a wiki and many may not be certain what the term even means or associate it exclusively with Wikipedia – and a wiki, after all, is just a HTML file that can be read like any other web-page or, well, a newspaper. Does this constitute use?

Rather than bombarding the end user with jargon and esoteric concepts perhaps our emphasis should be on how we, as devotees, use the technology ourselves to facilitate communication and collaboration amongst those end users. Sounds obvious put like that but the trick is also to engage the end user in the development process in a meaningful way without expecting them also to become devotees.

All of which gets me only a little closer to putting together a set of questions that will help me to identify “a representative set of social networking applications” that can then be user tested in a novel context within LeedsMet repository.

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3 Responses to “Web 2.0, jargon and user engagement”

  1. […] 2.0. Dawn and I had a lively discussion around some of the issues that I have tried to capture in a post at PERSoNA News – always difficult after the […]

  2. Nick said

    NB. Dawn’s post What is a web ap on Streamline News is relevant here.

  3. […] Comments (RSS) « Web 2.0, jargon and user engagement […]

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