Friday, September 15, 2006

More connections

I was chatting with a professor about a class project when he asked a question that seemed like it should have come from a professor in a different class. The question was about what was in it for the users of an interface, to interact with the site, to add value to it. This was the Users' Class. The question had been the focus of my Knowledge Management Class (knowledge is exchanged pursuant to market principles, just like other types of goods, assets, services, and its efficient exchange requires the perception of value on both sides of the transaction -- not just because it's a good idea to do it) for a whole week.

So it's all one big class. I wonder if it makes any sense to try to keep them separate for any purpose. I tend to want to organize things, keep them clearly delineated. They aren't clearly delineated. They are very much intertwined and inter-related. The readings for one could just as easily be the readings for the other. Good user-centered interface design is critical to knowledge management. But it's not enough. People don't visit or use sites just because they are easy to use. What's in it for them? Why give up the only thing they really have these days, their time and attention?

We assume so often that people will be motivated to come get what we put out there because it is relevant to them, to their work, to their interests. Publishing is just that -- putting stuff out there for the public -- to do with it as they will (the ideas). We don't usually expect readers of published material to do more than just read it and use it as they decide. But websites, interactive websites propose a different deal: come here, get the stuff, but don't leave and never come back. Give me more of your time. Come talk to me. Talk to other users. Tell me what you think about what you found here. Add to it. Be an active contributor. And be smart. And be creative. And thoughtful. Give me good stuff, not just junk.

so, why would a 16 year old Kuna Indian high-schooler do any of that?

but why would he or she create a space on myspace? Why do people contribute to Wikipedia? Why do they get involved in blogs? Why do they publish their own websites at all? Can it all be understood purely in terms of benefits and costs? Even if it can, is that the most helpful way to look at it?

There are intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Clearly, the former are more powerful. Maybe that's what's going on with some forms of contribution. There's no explicit reward: contribute and I'll give you x or y. Rather, it's contribute because our society will reward you with recognition, prestige, maybe it will lead to financial reward at some point, maybe it's part of your job and so you're getting financial reward but it's indirect. Etc.

So are there any intrinsic rewards for our Kuna Indian 16 year old? I guess we'll have to raise this with Daniel when we talk about our theoretical user. If there aren't likely to be any, what would be an appropriate extrinsic reward? What about other users, like the teachers who might use the site to teach the language or use the language to teach other things? What is their reward? Do the Kuna really care about their language? I'll google it and see what I come up with...

Hmmm. Well, I read the beginning of a paper on the evolution of language ( and it had a good observation right up front: "that languages, to exist, must be learned by the young." p.2. But overall, there were only a few sites that explained who the Kuna were, what their language was, and after that it was all scientific, anthropological, linguistic, etc. For researchers, by researchers. May I conclude that the Kuna do not use the Internet to keep their language alive, and maybe don't need to? the few sites I saw said that they all speak it. They still have their tribal culture and all. So, what exactly is our goal? What do our users want? Who are our users, the archive, or the Kuna? And if the Kuna, the kids, or the teachers of the kids? What is the goal of making the archive accessible?

No comments: