Personal Engagement with Repositories through Social Networking Applications

Archive for the ‘Questionnaire’ Category

MSc Dissertation: questionnaire

Posted by Nick on June 30, 2008

As part of her MSc Information Studies course, Leeds Met student Beth Hall is undertaking a dissertation investigating disciplinary differences in opinion of and use of open access repositories by research-active academic staff and postgraduate students.

Beth’s work will also provide useful information for the development of the Leeds Met repository and we would be very grateful if you could spend a few minutes  completing her questionnaire (Leeds Met staff/postgrads only)


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Web habits

Posted by Nick on June 13, 2008

After using the questionnaire at the TEL Day and the limited information that it generated regarding respondent’s awareness and use of SNAs I’ve been pondering the best way to move forward with PERSoNA and got to thinking about my own “workflow” and how I personally use the Web (1.0 and 2.0).

Both at home and at work I use Firefox with two tabs set to my iGoogle page and The university homepage gives me a window on my immediate environment, keeps me informed of what is happening elsewhere in the university and gives me access to various resources useful for work – though very much Web 1.0, it engenders a (largely passive) sense of community.

I find iGoogle a useful hub from which to move out into the wider web; I try to keep it relatively uncluttered with just two or three tabs and it’s primarily an interface for me to access my web-mail, store a few pertinent bookmarks and access various feeds from around the Web. (It’s also quite a useful search engine!)

As for my own use of “social networking”, it’s actually fairly limited and I tend to be something of a butterfly – I’ve registered with innumerable sites and applications, added buttons and plugins galore to Firefox and was briefly addicted to Tetris on Facebook – but very few of these become anything more than a fad. I’ve still got a button on my browser but I rarely use it. I do “use” Facebook slightly more but not professionally, particularly – though I am interested in developing a Facebook app that can search the Leeds Met Repository.

As I spend more time at my blogs (this and Repository News) they have, in addition to iGoogle, started to become the other “rooms” that I like to sit in and a useful place for me to put stuff that I might wish to revisit in the future and that might be useful for the projects. The point is that for me, and it’s obviously a personal thing, I feel more comfortable having a small number of “bases” on the Web (iGoogle, my blogs, Facebook a bit) and I’ve got very much into an habitual pattern of use – specifically with iGoogle – that I’m unlikely to break though it will certainly evolve; for example, I’m sure that Leeds Met Repository will become another familiar “room” for me but then I have a very clear motivation to visit it, practice a bit of Feng Shui and, I hope, encourage others to visit. Often.

We are all, I think, creatures of habit and I guess I’m very interested in other people’s Web habits – specifically academic staff – as a possible developmental route for PERSoNA. So I need to think how best to formally gather such information.

Post script: I’m just going to drop a resource in here that I found in another user’s account:

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Technology and learning day

Posted by Nick on June 11, 2008

The PERSoNA section of the TEL Day questionnaire was brief indeed which reflects my grappling with the best way to engage with people on their use (or otherwise) of SNAs.

John Gray at a recent Streamline project meeting emphasised that, in his view, we should be starting by considering peoples’ actual, real requirements before getting bogged down in the myriad of potential technologies and, in a round about way, I think this is pretty much what I was getting at in my last post.

At this stage, however, we chose to present a list – long but by no means exhaustive – of proprietary applications and ask respondents to indicate their level of familiarity (heard of, browse only [no account], browse only [with an account], make comments only [with an account], contribute content [with an account]). My goal was to gain a very preliminary sense of user engagement with some of these technologies in other environments.

I’m not certain how useful this section of the questionnaire was and it needs some careful thought how best to go forward – my initial sense is that once we have a repository and established some prototype workflows we should follow John’s advice and carefully assess what people really need to facilitate their engagement with the repository before identifying SNAs that will provide focussed solutions to those needs. It is very important that whatever technologies we adopt for PERSoNA are tightly focussed in this way and that they simplify and do not complicate the workflow; at the Streamline project meeting the observation was made that wholesale adoption of every available technology offers few benefits and is, rather, potentially destructive to the individual’s workflow.

One observation from the questionnaire that perhaps does merit comment (full results spreadsheet available here.) is that individuals who have higher levels of engagement tend to be familiar with and use a wider range of applications and at a higher level; such a correlation might well be expected but it does suggest, perhaps, that people either use Web 2.0 or they don’t rather then they use a particular tool because it solves a particular problem for them.

Instructive also were some of the comments elicited when people were asked why they did not, in fact, use SNAs:

“Haven’t found one useful enough to me.”

“Time, habit, inclination”

“Lack of knowledge”

“Can’t be bothered”

This last blunt response should, I think, be taken seriously and not dismissed as merely reflecting apathy – is this respondent, perhaps, simply asking “What is the point of these things? What do I gain from using them?” These, after all, are amongst the questions PERSoNA needs to answer.

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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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