Social and Mobile Computing
By Alecia Petrick
Socialising and meeting up face to face has its limits (i.e. distance, time of day, work load etc), but Social and Mobile Computing has helped achieve to eliminate many of these limits. Social and Mobile Computing is a great asset in connecting people together from different locations. A combination of systems and tools that people are using as a means of a new technological communication has developed a Network Economy with people. Without this network, there would be no use to any system devised in aiding communication within the Social and Mobile Computing area. One fax machine alone is useless.
Usability, reliability and a network economy
Without a usable system there would be no users. Even a usable system that is difficult to use limits its network of users. Reliability is also an important issue. If you were with a phone company that didn’t pass on all your text messages then switching networks would be a good-looking option. Now the most valuable thing in socialising may be the ability to socialise. So why join up to a socialising application to keep in contact the people you want when those people are not using the application? There would be no point. So a good networking system will want to be usable, reliable and have a good growing network economy. As well as having a good design and being aesthetically pleasing, there are many things that make up a successful social application but I will be mainly focusing on the above issues in this reflective article.
Usability to gain a network economy
Usability is vital to get a good network of users. Without a user friendly and usable system (put in place to aid Social and Mobile Computing) there will not be a strong following of users. Without users, the system fails.
Systems that work well in the Social Computing field are systems that have users that you want/need to connect with; otherwise the system fails for you. Two great examples of systems that allow people to connect and interact with, I found were Twitter and Facebook. Twitter was strait to the point. It let you know your friends posts from your own. It helped keep in contact with your network of friends without taking up too much time. I found Twitter usable, intuitive, a little unreliable, but overall very good and effective. Twitter is a good example of a usable system and this is one of the reasons for its success in gathering a network of followers. According to technology new company, ‘Digital Trends’, “Online tracking company comScore has released new figures that show Facebook striding ahead to be top of the social network sites. It hit 132 million unique visitors for a remarkable 153 percent growth rate.” (Digital Trends, Facebook Now Social Network Leader (2009), http://news.digitaltrends.com/news-article/17558/facebook-now-social-network-leader. Accessed 2 April, 2009).
Facebook is a great example of a usable system with a well developed Network Economy due to its large network of people in various locations, and intuitive, usable tools. Without the network there would be no use for the Facebook or the Twitter application. The large user following is the reason to the success of Social connective applications. A network economy leads to success whether it is Twitter (a social connective application), or a trend to wear fluoro colours. The more people to join the application / trend, the more it will grow in terms of numbers or popularity. “Faxes, email and credit cards all become more valuable to an individual user the larger is the goods network of users.” (Principles of Microeconomics, R. Frank and S. Jennings and B. Bernanke, Mc Graw Hill, London, 2007, p 262-3). This heavily relates to Social Computing.
Some unexpected surprises can be good at times but bad at others. Allow me to reflect on my experience and my friends’ experience while using social communication tools. I was in a system that supported a chat service and I was surprised to find that my friends in my network (of friends) got a copy of my conversation if they also had the person I was chatting to in their network as well. It was a pleasant surprise since I can see what sort of relationship my friends all share together and also because I can add onto the conversation if I wanted.
Although I found it to be a good surprise when I first noticed it; if I had not looked at my same friend’s page I would not have realised this. If (hypothetically), I had a bad habit of gossiping about my friends, I could have chatted to one friend in my network complaining about another friend in the same network. That would have been a negative surprise.
Relating to this my mate, Georgia told me she was chatting to one of her friends (within her network of friends) and saying bad things about her partner. Shortly later her partner happened to add Georgia’s same friend into his network and since they were in the same network her partner got the conversation in the chat boxes sent to his page. That was not a positive surprise for Georgia, as it upset her partner to read what she had been saying about him.
Facebook has some tools that took me by surprise. When friends in my network send me invitation messages to events or send me pictures, tagging pictures, commenting on photos.... I didn’t even know that some of these tool existed. It is great to learn more tools in the system without seeking to. This makes the system very learnable and therefore usable.
Tools that worked well and tools that didn’t
I my experience, I have found that systems that work well are the ones in which their tools are intuitive, user-friendly and reliable. On Twitter you can add your friends by typing their username into the end of the URL in the find your friends page. I found this tool problematic and so did my fellow classmates. For some reason the search would not work on the friend finder page to find and follow, then a class mate told me to do it this way (using the URL) to get the friend find system to work. This is a problem because if a new user was not informed of this other way they would likely have given up on the application as there is no incentive to using a system to connect with people when it can at first appear to be more trouble than it is worth. “Users (especially novice ones) will not enthusiastically adopt mobile computing devices if we are not able to prevent the pains and complexities of interacting through very limited input and output facilities”. (Emma Hanson. Mobile Computing – Social and Mobile Challenges (2004) Encyclopaedia of New Media http://wiki.media-culture.org.au/index.php/Mobile_Computing_-_Social_Implications_and_Challenges Accessed 1 April 2009). Even though this must have only been a temporary problem (as it was working again in the next few days), it broke its reputation for being reliable in the first stages of my experience of the application. On the other hand I think Twitter also has some great tools. The main posting page that helps people stay in touch with the people they wish to is very effective as it is strait to the point without any interference. Nothing detracts your attention away from the posts. Facebook has a simular system as Twitter where you put up posts to all on your network but there is also a lot of other information that is added in conjunction to the posts. These tools I find also help to keep in touch. It notifies you of any changes some one else makes to their page, like photos added to an album for example. Both Twitter, with its simplicity and Facebook with its numerous tools are effective, depending on what suites the individual.
Last.FM is great to find music that suits your own styles by a tool that connects your styles with others with simular styles to your own. If I were a music listener, I would definitely use this application to gather new music that suits my style. Last.FM also helps you follow band performances. This is also a great tool as it shows you bands that you may like according to your music selection. I found it very accurate and exciting to see what bands were preforming in my area. If I was younger and still fanatically followed the music scene like I used to, this would have been a big asset to me as I had struggled to stay informed of the bands I would like to see play. Just those two tools alone make a great application. My COMP3505 friends also use Last.FM for many of its other tools. So the list goes on without any negative feedback from myself or from my friends using this application.
Blog spot allows you to read other opinions in the same topic (when the topic doesn’t drift off). Blog spot also helped me top connect with other students with in my subjects. I found it useful and interesting to know what sort of things they were writing about in their blog spots. Blog spots are a good way to post an argument or subject of discussion. As blog spots can be to others, as opposed to just friends, it can be easier to write what you really think or feel about a particular issue. I think it is an excellent tool that helps people keep in touch what people really think without putting up a front. In another way I feel that sometimes the blog spots are simply interference and a mess of pointless posts. This detracts from the application.
Some tools I found useless like in “Delicious” where it recommends popular websites. For me, I found this useless as Yahoo is more efficient at finding directly what you want when web surfing. I could see how this could be useful to some people, but not for myself.
Some tools in Face book I find are in the way and get annoying. There are tools that aid socialising by sending electronic hugs, kisses, bears and silly little quizzes that compare your results with your friends within your network that you choose. Although this kind of socialising is popular with many users, it is not in my interest. I feel that these tools are not helping me in any way to connect with my friends on a meaningful level.
With “Flicker”, I found myself not using it properly, the way it was designed to be used. Whilst I noticed I wasn’t taking the application seriously I found that many other users also weren’t. Instead of posting art work and creative photography users would post personal pictures of their pets, group photos of friends. This considered, there are some issues with “Flicker” that detracts from the sharing of creative photography.
“Pipeline”, I found usable and useful but the problem is that it would need to become a lot more usable to get a larger range of users. Like Facebook, Delicious, Flicker and Twitter, they are relatively intuitive and take not much time or effort to use the applications. Pipeline takes the learning from a tutorial and hints just to start setting up your pipes. Now if there was a simpler version for some users that would have otherwise got put off by the setup process there could be more of a range of users.
What I am meaning to say is that a more learnable application that is based on user intuition becomes more user friendly. The more user friendly a system is the better it will do for itself. Take for example a vending machine. A vending machine will want to be user friendly or else the user will buy their drinks or chips from a different one. The vending machine will also need to be reliable at giving change back or the user will no use it. This is why it was bad when the class of COMP3505 found that Twitter was not working as it should have been in the friend find page. An application needs to be reliable, lest it lose user confidence.
I think a simple connective social and mobile computing application like Twitter with a good concept and a good system in place (with a combination of tools that is user friendly) can be very effective. I think this is the type of application that can see a growing network economy. After reflecting on several social and mobile computing applications I would say that if more of my friends and family used Twitter, I would use this application on a daily basis. It helps users to stay in touch with everyone on a regular basis without demanding too much time or energy.