PERSoNA News

Personal Engagement with Repositories through Social Networking Applications

Posts Tagged ‘wiki’

Moving forward…

Posted by Nick on July 10, 2008

On the back of the Emerge presentation, and as an earlier adjunct to the Streamline meeting, a group of us sat down on Tuesday to review PERSoNA and think about precisely what tools the project needs to deliver.

A question:

Should we be looking at a web tool that facilitates appropriate social networking and resource sharing that sits outside the repository rather than embed tools within intraLibrary itself?

John began by sketching a very rough outline of the repository projects; I have taken this diagram and tried to flesh it out to more fully represent my own conception of what we are aiming at with our interlinked projects:

This approach to PERSoNA would allow intraLibrary to be configured simply as a repository that we can annexe to our web tool – whatever that may be.

Note: Might a potential problem with this approach be integration with the Web 2.0 technologies and personalisation tools already present in intraLibrary 3.0 (RSS, rating system, user comments, add to favourites)?

Anyway, if this should be the approach that we follow, the crucial questions are perhaps:

  • What sort of tool or tools would be useful enough so that people would naturally engage with them?
  • How could the use of such a tool or tools promote use of the repository?

One idea is to somehow embed the repository and its peripheral infrastructure (i.e. the PERSoNA tool) into the scholarly workflow such that deposit/discovery/sharing of resources is fully integrated into the process of writing and publishing a research paper or producing/repurposing a learning object.

Note: Other projects are exploring similar themes: The EMBED project at Cranfield University aims “to increase understanding of how repositories can be used to support research and learning, integrating them fully into academic processes.”

Dawn suggested a WIKI as a possible solution: it allows collaboration – often essential in research – and could in theory be used to write a research paper which could then automatically be deposited to the repository at the appropriate point in the workflow. Janet, however, was quick to point out that a while a WIKI may be useful to collaborate on research, it is not, in fact, an appropriate technology for writing a research paper citing lack of adequate version control as a major drawback.

Creative suggestions notwithstanding, I’m acutely aware that we really need more user input – what do academics actually want? I still think there is mileage in assessing individual web habits and other factors that contribute to workflow inertia – by interview perhaps?

Janet referred to a post-graduate project that might provide us with a useful opportunity; as I understand, a group of postgraduates hope to produce their own research journal and utilise a sort of informal peer review process to assess quality. Perhaps we can collaborate with the project; a potential user-group to help us develop a useful and usable virtual, social environment that facilitates easy deposit of appropriate material into the repository which is then made available as an e-journal.

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Posted in PERSoNA, Web habits | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

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.

Posted in PERSoNA, Questionnaire | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »