Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/WikiBook Contributors, Readers, and the Art of Conversation

WikiBook Contributors, Readers, and the Art of Conversation (Daphne Mintz) edit

As a computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), the WikiBook platform provides an easy-to-use workspace for multiple contributors to co-author an online book on any topic. In terms of Activity Theory, as described in HCI Models, Theories, and Frameworks, the platform supports division of labor and all levels of users can work in the space independently, simultaneously, and in the same areas without the imposition of following a sequence. (Carroll, 294) In regards to being transparent, the users can review each other’s work. While this fact is appealing in that it can aid in avoiding repetition or contradiction, it can create a feeling of awkwardness amongst the contributors. Norman (1980) points out that human behavior is key to forming relationships and that forming relationships is key to collaboration (Carroll, 292).

The WikiBook platform could help build relationships by modeling conversation patterns and identifying ways to capture the benefits of those patterns in the platform. For example, live human collaboration usually includes some form of introduction where we establish our level of expertise in a role or on a topic. This declaration of self is very helpful in establishing a comfort level in a work environment. As a contributor to a WikiBook, a user may feel less qualified than her peers to write on a given a topic. Being able to identify oneself as a novice or student by choosing a label or tag could possibly create a more comfortable atmosphere and encourage interaction. Subject matter experts would feel more welcome to advise or clarify on points if the contributor self-proclaimed being junior.

Another example of the benefits of face-to-face context is conversational tone. Like the spoken word, the written word has tone. In conversation, we can work out in real time if we are comfortable with a casual tone or prefer to be more formal when discussing particular topics. Think of all the experiences you’ve had where someone acted either overly formal or incredibly silly and the dynamics of the situation that eventually vetted out whichever was the awkward tone. A WikiBook author who prefers a formal tone may feel unwelcome to use the approach more comfortable to him.

Readers, on the other hand, may benefit tremendously from the variety of skill levels and writing styles. Ergo, the cultural need to be aligned, to fit in on behalf of the contributor, may interfere with the needs or desires of the other user-base (the reader). Activity theory recommends that the different users be part of the design process. As such, when modeling conversation patterns, the designers would want to address all combinations: contributor-to-contributor, contributor-to-reader, reader-to-reader.

References Carroll, J. M. (2003). HCI Models, Theories, and Frameworks. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.