Sunday, October 14, 2007

How technology shapes behaviour

The International Journal of E-collaboration is an interesting journal. It offers one free copy. Unfortunately you all get the same free copy, of Jan-March 2005, otherwise you could set up a group effort to get a all the issues for free :).

They use the following definition of e-collaboration: Electronic collaboration (e-collaboration) is operationally defined here as collaboration using electronic technologies among different individuals to accomplish a common task (Kock & D’Arcy, 2002, 2001). In the first article 6 key elements of e-collaboration are defined:

  1. The collaborative task

  2. The e-collaboration technology

  3. Individuals involved in the collaborative task

  4. Mental schemas possessed by the individuals

  5. The physical environment surrounding the individuals

  6. The social environment surrounding the individuals

In the article called: Technology-Shaping Effects of E-Collaboration Technologies: Bugs and Features by M. Lynne Markus, Bentley College, USA there is a great example that I would like to share with you.

In a case study of e-mail use in the late 80s the author found out that managers had to overcome the problems associated with a primitive e-mail system. For instance, the system lacked a 'cc' feature, requiring all recipients of the mail to be listed on the 'to' line, making it difficult to know who was expected to respond or take action. This was solved by the managers by using redundant salutations to name the particular recipients when there were multiple users on the 'to' line. The salutations made it clearer who was expected to take action, and for whom the message was a 'for your information'.

The second example was that use of the 'reply' feature would only reach the sender of the original message, no matter how many recipients had been listed on the 'to' line in the original message. This was solved by using the 'forward' function in stead of the 'reply' function. Even though this meant that the ID of the original sender had to be re-entered, all recipients of the original message would be included.

I think these are two wonderful examples of how technology set up (the system) did not determine the use, but did influence it in a certain way. The managers created their own ways of using the system in a way that supported their collaborative practices. Features are not binding constraints, if people want to communicate and collaborate they invent their own habits which suit them! If people are motivated enough, they may work with a suboptimal technology, and will invent their own ways of coping. Still technology shapes behaviour and hence it's important to think carefully through technology features while designing an online space.

1 comment:

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