Selection Criteria for Technology Platforms (Fred)

Scoping the choice for #oosEU

Background; I’ve been involved in thinking about choosing in thinking about how to match technology choices to user (and institutional) needs since the 1980s. The big issue at that time was the arrival of the PC, personal computer. Businesses who had previously seen computers as the preserve of computing professionals, who handed out print-outs of information to managers, maybe a day or a week or a month (!) after the information was requested, suddenly found that users (not just computing professionals) could now actually touch the computer, or terminal, or desktop computer (that is why it is called a desktop) and retrieve information for themselves; later on they would be allowed to input information as well.

Metaphors; Microsoft eventually won the war of the metaphors for user-computing and determine that we would use the “desktop” metaphor. The metaphor both simplifies and shuts down choices for the user; if I know how a business desktop works then I also know how M$ Windows works. If you use computers you are interested in “business.” One of the issues we might be interested in #oosEU is what metaphors we are using in developing the Toolbox. Toolbox itself is already a metaphor of course…

Systems Analysis; As there are issues between what technology can do (its affordances) and what users want (the purpose of the system) a key process in the design of technology systems is “systems analysis.” System analysis is about looking at what the user needs are, examining what the information system requirements are and then designing a computer-based system. With designing a payroll system for business, the information system is closely defined by how the business works and what contracts people are on. It is an easy system to computerised and pre-existing (accounting) systems already exist to buy off-the-shelf.

Facebook is a ‘facebook;’  Facebook took off so quickly because in American universities (and high schools) you get a physical book of faces, a facebook, with pictures of all students who attend, and what their interests are. Mark Zuckerburg didn’t design anything, or carry out any systems analysis, he simply built a computer version of an existing information system; alumni at the University (Harvard). Facebook was originally a closed social network that only let you see other people at your University, as it was rolled out University by University; which helped with problem of scale, because they knew the numbers in advance as they scaled Facebook up. One of my students (Janet Posner) built an award-winning system for Goldsmiths University which allocated rooms for lectures. She always maintained that her PC-based computerised system was so good because the existing paper-based system worked well. If she had needed to solve the resource-allocation problem of matching lecturers, to courses and students, to lecture rooms it would have been a nightmare project. However, like Facebook, the room-booking system at Goldsmiths just computerised what was already there; known users, known information requirements

OOS Toolbox issues; Already we can see that the #oosEU toolbox is lacking a number of helpful items of information.

a) What is the purpose of the Toolbox

b) What information best meets this purpose

c) Who are the users?

More complicated is that, unlike Goldsmith’s paper-based room allocation system, we don’t know what information system we are trying to model because our users are, at the moment, all future users. So we can rewrite c) as

c) Who are our FUTURE users?

Online Systems; As computerised systems moved out of business institutions and into the streets, e.g. ATMs, Database shopping (like IKEA) with EPOS (electronic point of sale), successful systems were those that could define what their users wanted; i.e. people who wanted cash or furniture. With the arrival of the internet, and then the web, suddenly systems had to be built for unknown users. However a business is still defined by what product or services it sells, so transactional online systems were not difficult to build; Amazon is an online shop which, very early on (before Facebook) added in social network features (reviews and recommendations) into the user interface. Like Apple, Amazon was also interested in UX – the User Experience, in this case “social” shopping, making the experience friendly and meaningful.

Learning Technology Systems; I’ve been working on Learning Technology systems, which have mostly been educational technology (which means known content delivery to a pre-determined course curriculum) since 1995. Initially these were Virtual Learning Environments like Blackboard, WebCT & FirstClass which were based on a US “instructional design” approach, developed by DARPA for the Department of Defense as e-training. So instructional design is deliberate step-by-step training program(me) where the student is committed to learning the skill(s) on offer because their job depends on it. If you think, like I do, that learning is a social process, based on both communication (discussion) and the creative sharing of new ideas that are brought into the learning process through discussion, e-training is not the model. However online learning that mimics an existing educational process (university courses – MOOCs, or training – instructional design) work because the users have already accepted the need to complete a university course or complete a training programme…

Toolbox Users; Nobody needs The Origin of Spaces toolbox and, in the main, we are not mimicing an existing learning process. So in the toolbox design we have to create from scratch a workable learning process  which will map to how our users want to learn (and why). The user needs analysis we have done so far say that #oosEU people DO NOT want to learn as though the toolbox is an educational course or training…

Conclusion; BEFORE we select the technology platform we need to identify the users and their learning (and other needs) more precisely. In other projects I have added in typical profiles of users and produced elements of the Toolbox that match to that profile. For #oosEU that could be

a) social entrepreneurs

b) digital nomads

c) collaborative workers

d) social activists

e) greens

f) governance specialists

User profiles may be an interim way of determining user needs to help model the toolbox before we move to choosing the technology platform.


One thought on “Selection Criteria for Technology Platforms (Fred)

  1. Your main point seems to be “we haven’t done our homework” in terms of “who is the user?”, etc. I totally agree and would further add that writing who you think the user is on a piece of paper doesn’t moves you forward in the process. The only way is really knowing the users – by talking to them and engaging them in micro-resources (a blog, social networks, etc.) before building out a big platform.


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