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Posts Tagged ‘concepts’

5. The mobility of electronic digital data

Email and similar forms of asynchronous communication carry with them the possibility for rapid, efficient, almost invisible ‘multiplication’ of the addresses to which communication is being sent. Functions such as carbon copying, forwarding and so on enable the most rapid form of communication ‘expansion’ – bringing other people into communicative circuits – yet seen. It is very easy, with forward for example, to simply ‘pass on’ information without processing it or, without processing the dynamics of the communicative relationship between you and the forwardee or without realising that you are establishing a third relationship – between the original sender and the final recipient. (Allen, n.d.)

Primarily used as a form of communication between multiple users, email has proved to be such an effective tool for the transfer of information that users have become reliant on the medium, in some cases even extending the tool beyond its original purpose.

The “exploding inbox” appears to be a common problem, crammed full of email messages from various sources and possessing various levels of importance, also known as email overload. Whitaker and Sidner (1996) discovered in a study of twenty email users that some individuals struggled to read and respond to emails. A troublesome ‘condition’, email overload causes the user to feel overrun and unable to complete tasks which may appear more important. Not uncommon is the cry that the email overload is preventing the user from doing their real job! In actual fact, email management has become a fundamental skill which in most cases is part of that real job.

I doubt that email management is something you would commonly see on a job description, but in today’s workplace I would say it is safe to assume it is a requirement. The struggle involved in email management can at times have negative effects for the individual and the corporation as a whole.

Dabbish and Kraut (2006) outline three main tactics used for the management of email; the ongoing maintenance of incoming messages, the archiving of message for later reference, and the use of the inbox as a task management tool.

Email has the ability to quickly distribute messages to numerous recipients, whether it is relevant to them or not. This presents challenges for both the sender and recipient. There is a certain amount of responsibility involved in email.

Firstly, care must be taken to consider who the email is to be sent to. Why send something unnecessarily? Is it the fact that email is free and no postage fees are involved? I know I would think twice about hitting the “send” button if I knew I were about to pay a fee. Perhaps a simple test is to consider whether you would pay to send the message prior to emailing – then again, maybe too simple a concept.

Secondly, the recipient must evaluate whether the message was necessary. If the message was not required, the recipient does hold a degree of responsibility to inform the sender, who may be totally unaware that the recipient did not actually require the information. I sometimes send information to multiple recipients with the assumption that they do actually require it. I would expect that if they didn’t require it, they would let me know.

Whilst on the topic of email in the workplace, we must also consider how email can prove to be a security concern. Email is commonly thought of as a transfer of text, which in itself could transport confidential data. It is equally important to identify file attachments as security risks.

The lack of geographical constraints means that data can be transported to someone on another continent almost instantly. It could be said that the mobility of digital data has played a significant role in “flattening” our world.

Annotated Bibliography

Dabbish, L.A. & Kraut, R. E. (2006). Email Overload at Work: An Analysis of Factors Associated with Email Strain, Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Retrieved 2nd February, 2009, from http://portal.acm.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/ft_gateway.cfm?id=1180941&type=pdf&coll=portal&dl=ACM&CFID=15605080&CFTOKEN=55032916.

Dabbish and Kraut present their findings from a study of email users in the United States. Both Dabbish and Kraut are from the Human-Computer Interaction Instituted at Carnegie Mellon University, so are specialised at overseeing how people use a tool such as email and investigate whether there is such a concept as email overload, and if so, what techniques may help reduce the effects. Dabbish and Kraut discovered that the feelings of email overload could be minimised through regular email maintenance and keeping the inbox relatively small with a handful of folders being used for archival purposes.

Whittaker, S. & Sidner, C. (1996). Email overload: exploring personal information management of email, Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 276-283, Retrieved 2nd February, 2009, from http://portal.acm.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/ft_gateway.cfm?id=1180941&type=pdf&coll=portal&dl=ACM&CFID=15605080&CFTOKEN=55032916

Whittaker and Sidner wrote this paper in 1996 when they were located at the Lotus Development Corporation. Technology wise, the paper is probably best viewed with its age in mind, given that much has change. However, their conceptual thoughts and studies of email usage are still relevant today. They attempt to demonstrate how the concept of email overload creates problems within organisations, and how users can implement techniques to try and minimise the effects of such problems. This paper presents solutions which may have inspired David Allen’s Getting Things Done phenomenon.

7. Netiquette

“An overwhelming and many-facted aspect of using email and similar asynchronous communication systems over the Internet is ‘Netiquette’. Netiquette describes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ conduct in online communication (amongst other forms of Internet use). But what is important about Netiquette is the concept that there are these ‘agreed’ rules of what is good and bad.” (Allen, n.d.)

Netiquette is most often referred to in situations where interpersonal communication takes place online, such as online chat, discussion forums and instant messaging.

As with a sport such as golf, the etiquette of the activity isn’t necessarily taught, but learnt by example. When a user first begins using the Internet, they are not subjected to reading the “rules” of Netiquette, nor is there a training course that every user must undertake. It is very much a case of learn as you go, as is the case with many internet concepts.

The Internet presents a very different culture for someone who hasn’t used it before and it’s very easy to make mistakes (Shea, V. 2006). As Shay says, “something about cyberspace makes it easy to forget that you’re interacting with other real people — not just ASCII characters on a screen, but live human characters” (Shea, V. 2006).

The Internet requires Netiquette to provide a form of self monitoring control amongst users. If the majority of users can grasp the concept that there are unspoken laws to adhere to, we can look forward to, in the most part, positive and friendly Internet experiences.

Discussion forums, even when moderators are present, rely on the users themselves to educate each other by example. In my experience, if someone steps beyond the line of what is considered acceptable participation, their fellow users will step in and attempt to put things right before any moderator intervention becomes apparent.

Email experiences similar situations but in many cases within a more personal conversation. Where two people are involved, one may point out with a simple reply what the sender did “wrong” in their initial email. It might be something as simple as typing all uppercase letters, which the sender may have not realised was outside normal Netiquette (RFC 1855, 1995).

The boundaries of Netiquette seem to disappear when we go beyond these means of communication. When it comes to online content, it seems there is more acceptance of what might be term unacceptable in a more immediate communicative experience. Why is this so?

Maybe there is an assumption that web content is, to a degree, static. Perhaps individuals see web content as an abstract form of communication, where they themselves are no longer part of the “conversation”. The lack of their personal participation may see an absence of emotion, or response, except in situations where the breach of Netiquette is directly aimed at them.

Guidelines for appropriate use of the Internet can be found online, such as these Netiquette Guidelines from Stanton University (RFC 1855, 1995). These particular guidelines were produced for organisations to apply for their own use, which in my opinion, is a good idea. The guidelines are quite dated, however much of what is listed still applies today.

In an environment where there is no single commanding body governing what is right or wrong, Netiquette guidelines provide an attempt for the Internet community to self govern, or at least keep each other in some sort of order. Imagine if there were no active application of Netiquette. The Internet would be a much less pleasant environment for users, and I expect that its attractiveness to business would be lessened, resulting in much less emphasis on the integration of the Internet into our daily lives.

Annotated Bibliography

RFC 1855: Netiquette Guidelines, (1995). Retrieved 1st February, 2009, from http://www.stanton.dtcc.edu/stanton/cs/rfc1855.html

This set of guidelines outline steps Internet users can take to ensure adherence to basic Netiquette. Compiled  by a working group with the aim of providing Netiquette guidelines for organisations to use. The guidelines cover the use of Internet technologies such as email, chat, mailing lists, FTP, Telnet and websites. Published in 1995, these guidelines are quite dated, for example some technology mentioned is rarely used today, but the general concepts can still be applied. The bulleted list format of this source encourages reading and application within external organisations.

Shea, V. (2006). The Core Rules of Netiquette, http://www.albion.com/netiquette/introduction.html
This page is an introduction to what is a very useful primer on Netiquette for both new and experienced users. Using real life examples, Shea explains ten rules for communicating across the Internet, blending common sense with Internet communication skills. Whilst this resource doesn’t present a list of do’s and dont’s, it educate the reader and makes them think about what the rules actually mean, and the effects poor Netiquette can have on other users and themselves. Published in 2006, the site is very much still relevant, and the people used in the examples can be related to.

20. Active communication generates identity awareness

“The common term for people who belong to lists (or other internet communities of discussion) and who do not actively participate is ‘lurkers’. Lurkers, obviously, are real people who exist in many ways. Yet, within the context of a particular list, if they are not posting, then they appear invisible and, indeed, can lack identity completely.” (Allen, n.d.)

There are two ways to use an online forum. One is to consume the information, lurking in the background and selectively taking in information when it seems appealing. This method is most likely the common starting point for most forum users until they feel comfortable using the second method, which involves actually participating in the discussion.

A persons identity does not necessarily translate or appear equal to their online identity. The two types of identities are very different, and it should not be assumed that the characteristics of each are even at all similar in the two environments (Suler, J.R. 2002). When entering a new online community, an opportunity presents itself for the user to mould their own identity, which could be significantly different to their real physical and mental attributes (Talamo 2000).

Until a user begins participating in the forum, whether they have signed up for a username or not, they are not an effective part of the community and other forum users will generally be unaware of them. Participation is the key that opens the door to the community. To the user, participation may take on a different meaning. Some users may choose not to participate at all, but still see that as their form of participation (Suler, J.R. 2002).

Some forums see users posting continuously throughout the day, and it is these users who will form strong identities amongst the community. Personalities begin to shape, and relationships are forged. Users develop knowledge of their cohorts, their interests, troubles and even emotions.

It is not uncommon for a process called “positioning” to take place in the online environment. This involves a user’s identity changing dynamically to suit the situation, rather than remaining as a constant (Talamo 2000).

There are similarities between a forum discussion and a face to face group discussion. The participants actively conversing with each other will almost certainly come away with greater awareness of each other, than say, the quiet person sitting in the corner. In this model, we see social skills transferring beyond face to face interaction and into the virtual existence that is an online forum.

In my experience, forum users eventually begin organising social events to catch up “offline”. The personal bonds that are made through regular online activity almost have a reassuring effect on people, as though you can predict a persons personality and value through their persistent participation. However, antisocial behaviour in an online forum can be equally powerful, with the effects flowing over into real life.

But what happens when a commercial entity enters the forum, not just as a lurker, but as an active participant? Will the community accept them? Will this build brand awareness, or cause a backlash against the brand? It is a risky move.

Taking a global view of the situation, an individual and a commercial entity are effectively equals in the online community. Both can produce constructive, quality input for the community. So why do some users become disgruntled when they discover another participant is actually representing a commercial brand?

Annotated Bibliography

Suler, J.R. (2002). Identity Management in Cyberspace, Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, Vol.4, No.4, Retrieved February 1st, 2009, from IngentaConnect.com database.

This paper presents thoughts about how Internet users have the ability to develop an alternate, online version, of themselves through both deliberate and unconscious actions. It explains how some people “deconstruct” their lives and recreate various independent social circles of the real life, within the online environment. It explains how negative feelings and feelings of alienation can be overcome through online interaction, leading to an improved self esteem and mindset. The concepts identified within this paper are very relevant to todays online world, and leave the reader dissecting their own patterns of online behaviour.

Talamo, A. & Ligorio, M.B. (2000). Identity in the Cyberspace: The Social Construction of Identity Through On-Line Virtual Interactions, First Dialogical Self Conference, Retrieved 3rd February, 2009, from http://www.activeworlds.com/edu/research/identity.pdf

This paper investigates the construction of identity through social interaction in a three dimensional virtual world. By creating a three dimensional virtual world, a study was undertaken to analyse how participants built their social identities in the online environment. Participants were asked questions which related to actions they undertook within the virtual world. It found that virtual environments provide the ability for users to adjust their behaviour and appearance according to the context of the situation, and highlights the fact that users think in some way about how others perceive their identity.

32. Virtually a Library?

“A persistent metaphor used to allow people to understand the Internet is that the Internet is a ‘library’, often with the implication that it is actually better than a library because of the wider array of resources available by electronic (as opposed to physical) transmission. The comparison is invidious. The Internet and (physical) libraries share some elements in common – much as, for example, decision-making in families and in state governments have some similarities. The context, scope and underlying assumptions of each different system – Internet and library – are very different. We can see in the use of the ‘library’ metaphor an attempt to make the ‘net ‘sensible’ to a non-technical audience, to give it a purpose and meaning, as well as a technological description. But, for advanced users, the metaphor should be discarded (though not without noting its common use) in favour of an understanding of the key element in the library system: classification into categories.” (Allen,n.d.)

Grasping the concept of the Internet for the first time can be a daunting prospect, which is exactly why the metaphor used to describe the Internet as a ‘library’ is so effective. We grow up using libraries throughout our education and some of us continue that use as we grow older. As children we are taught that libraries hold information, which is exactly what the Internet does.

The idea of the Internet as a library holds firm when you consider the barriers it breaks down with regards to public access (Gellman 1996). Not everyone lives within close proximity to a library, but telecommunication networks are expanding to reach regional and even outback areas, taking Internet resources directly to people who were once isolated.

However, the concept of the Internet as a library only relates in a general sense. The problem we have with the Internet is that there is no defined system for finding information. There are no categories or indexes that conform to a set standard. The Internet was never designed with large scale retrieval of information in mind (Lynch 1997).

I hear you say “but what about Google”. Well yes, Google does provide a form of indexing but if you travel across to Yahoo, you will find their results differ, as do the results of each search engine.

Libraries commonly use the Dewey Decimal Classification system to organise their content. This system was first published in 1876, and has extensive detail with regards to specifying the index number of a specific item (The DDC 22 Introduction, n.d.).

There have been attempts to reproduce this system online, such as http://www.deweybrowse.org/ but the Internet is such a vast, dynamically expanding environment that cataloguing all available content is beyond comprehension!

As we see semantic mark-up being used to create page content, indexing content according to a standard like the Dewey Decimal Classification might develop into something that is achievable. We might see the introduction of an HTML metadata tag which allows the page to be allocated an index number which could be used by an open source “library site” to produce a comprehensive catalogue of web pages. This automation via the use of metadata would remove the human category classifying process currently required, enabling a grand scale indexing to take place.

However, automated tools which do not involve human input categorise information differently to humans which could cause significant problems in making it useful (Lynch 1997). What is the point of categorising information if you cannot effectively and efficiently find what you require?

We must also ask, what is the information being used for? If we look at the Internet as a library, what type of library is it? Academics might view the Internet as a collection of resources at their disposal, teenagers as a library of MySpace and Facebook profiles, intelligence agencies as a library of data sources ready for analysis (Lynch 1997). The Internet is so many things to so many different types of people that it is difficult to put them all under one umbrella, library wise.

Annotated Bibliography

Gellman, R. (1996). Disintermediation and the internet, Government Information Quarterly, Vol. 13, Issue 1, pp. 1-8, Retrieved February 5th, 2009, from http://dx.doi.org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1016/S0740-624X(96)90002-7

Gellman’s report revolves around the concept of disintermediation. Gellman uses an example of banks in the 1960’s and 1970’s who were struggling to retain customers when competing financial institutions entered the market offering more attractive products. He presents the issue of disintermediation and libraries, stating that the Internet is taking business away from libraries, but also suggesting that there are steps libraries can take to minimise the impact, such as producing their own information products to offer to customers. This report is a very appropriate one in a period where many services are being slowly changed by the Internet.

Lynch, C. 1997, Searching the Internet, Scientific American, March 1997, Vol. 276, Issue 3, p. 52, Retrieved February 4th, 2009, from http://search.ebscohost.com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=9704276042&site=ehost-live

In this report, Lynch describes how combining the skills of computer scientists and librarians can be used to organise the array of information on the Internet into a categorised system, similar to that of a traditional library. The difficulties in automated categorisation are mentioned, such as how automated categorisation will never be as effective as manual categorisation by a human. The report dates back to 1997, which is a long time Internet wise, but the same principles apply today. We still have the same challenges ahead of us, and whilst in many ways we are close to solving them, there is still much progress to be made.

Bibliography

Dewey Browse. (2009). Retrieved February 1st, 2009, from http://www.deweybrowse.org/

The DDC 22 Introduction (n.d.). Retrieved February 4th, 2009, from http://www.oclc.org/dewey/versions/ddc22print/intro.pdf

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