Monday, September 10, 2007

Research in interactive design -- Web 2.0 got rolling today

My third class got going today. It's offered in the School of Communication, department of radio, television and film. It's certainly about communication, but not about radio, television or film. It's about interactive applications, well, actually, according to some of the foundational documents of Web 2.0, it's about an attitude as much as applications. It didn't come up, I guess partly because it is about a year old now and things a year old are ancient in Web terms, but Michael Wesch's The Machine is Us/ing Us captures what it's about better than most things I've read.

The image I had of myself being on top of the readings 2 weeks into the semester was shattered by the addition of the third class' bibliography and the suggestion of what we'll try to accomplish this semester. Sharon Strover, our professor, is very energetic and so are the students. I am a bit skeptical that I'll get as far as she thinks, but the idea seems to be that we'll all be supporting each other to come up with good researchable questions in this area.

I wrote about this the other day, and now I need to refine my ideas down to 2 paragraphs: first one describes my research question and why I want to do it; second one explains how I'm going to go about it.

So, for context, there's the Texas Digital Library, a collaborative repository, gearing up to define its "road ahead," at TDL: The Road Ahead. I read the conversation there, between colleagues at the Libraries, where I work, and Texas A&M, a collaborator library in the TDL, and realized that the proposal being put forth (the concept document, page 3 of which is pictured above), and Kara's note about CommentPress, created a nice set of hypotheses for my project. What might a scholar do with this capability? What might appeal to an academic? What's worthwhile, what's worthless? What's needed, what's fluff? How do we create services that people will want, that they can use, that they *will* use? I can look around to see what works, what doesn't work. So, how do I translate that into a research question?

Given the cyberinfrastructure of [define what the TDL/IR and our networked connections to it constitute in terms of cyberinfrastructure], what combination of Web 2.0 tools can be implemented on the network/IR to create a space for academics that facilitates: communication, collaboration, vetting of ideas, proof of concept, preparation of research results, peer-review, data storage, archiving of process (gray lit generated by use of the site) and final product (peer-reviewed manuscript)?

Suppose we put together a combination of tools that can be called upon to do these things, in whole or in part, what determines uptake? What obstacles are there to broad-based utilization? What is the definition of success? How long-term are we looking at? There's a slow migration of library services away from current models (providing access to literature) to providing more support throughout the whole continuum of research activity, how long are we talking about? When do we throw in the towel? Oh, I guess I'm not optimistic. Why is that?

And is that the more interesting research question? I was a member of a group that met in DC about a year ago to look at the preliminary report of the ACLS regarding the lack of cyberinfrastructure for the humanities and social sciences. I need to reread the report. I know that it's lacking when compared to the sciences, but the scientists are all over these tools. Maybe I need to not worry about the humanists and social scientists and their lack of interest. They don't work the same way, is that it? They are lone rangers? So be it. No, no , no. I'm a social scientist. I can't just dismiss them. I'm them.

Nevertheless, the science dudes are much more likely to use these tools, but are they more inclined to go to sites that are devoted to their areas, their fields (the nano web or the chemists beaker or the cancer hub or whatever)? Who is our audience? And how do we know what they want?

The tools are all about interaction. That should be a critical element of any definition of audience -- people who need to (not just want to but need to) communicate with others to accomplish a goal. Who is already using these tools and how? Who is not? Why? Ah, why. The question that is the hardest to answer.

Well, this is not getting me anywhere. I need to call in the general, my committee chair, and ask for some guidance on this question of how you generate research questions....

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