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Universal usability

Fixing computer science with web science

In the June 2007 Communications of the ACM (Vol 50 #6), Ben Shneiderman has a "Viewpoint" article that hits close to home. "Web science: A provocative invitation to computer science," subtitled "Here's how it can awaken computer science to the interdisciplinary possibilities of the Web's socially embedded computing technology."

I have written about various pieces that Ben mentions (Web science and IA, universal usability, IBM's services science, as examples) but he has tied them together better. And added a wrinkle that I was not concerned with (until now): how to invigorate computer science programs by adopting the Web science framework.

I am not really in touch with the specific woes of computer science, but I can see how the social perspective would make CS research a lot more relevant. Studying social networks instead of computer networks. Researching e-government instead of compilers. Student projects on sharing animation instead of rendering algorithms. Focusing on users instead of computers.

Ben's other main point is that web science can help create a synergy for more interdisciplinary research. Emerging applications like Web 2.0, universal usability and ubiquitous computing are all natural fits under Web science (that traditional computer scientists would likely say are outside their scope).

Ben ends with: "Visionaries say it is time for a change, but will the traditional computer science community accept the invitation? I hope it will."

This CACM article is not online yet but will eventually be in the CACM section of the ACM Digital Library. Here are the references and other mentions from the article while you wait. (Some links lead to summary pages where you need membership to get the full article.)

  1. Japan Prize Commemorative Lecture
  2. Foundations and trends in web science
  3. Creating a science of the web
  4. A research manifesto for services science
  5. The social life of innovation
  6. Crisis and opportunity in computer science (PDF)
  7. Leonardo's Laptop
  8. 911.gov
  9. Web Science Research Initiative

Other reform movements

Innovation for everyone

One of the US ibm.com home page features this week is Innovation for everyone. Instead of building a world which people (are forced to) adapt to, let's have the world adapt to human differences and special abilities.

(While the Flash version is acceptable for getting an overview of the topic, I personally find the plain-old HTML version easier to read in depth. The audio version is more than just a nice touch in this case.)

There are 3 major themes to the article:

  • Shades of ability: Going from a black-and-white "normal/disabled" model, to shades of ability, to the social focus on access, to a complex model that takes into account environmental context. The innovation happens when we take down the barriers within an experience designed for certain abilities.
  • Open standards open doors: Examples where open standards enable user customization, so people can make an IT environment that matches their unique abilities.
  • Designing for everyone: Universal design principles as "good business design."

IBM home page executive editor Derek Baker also interviews John Kemp.

I chatted with Derek briefly while he was working on this feature - about how universal usability fits in nicely with innovation for everyone. Nothing specifically about UU made it in, but it still turned out to be a very good Idea from IBM.

Usability Engineering an Accessible Web

Short presentation that was part of the FedWeb '98 Seminar on Universal Access, July 7, 1998, Washington, DC.

Goal: People accessing Information and Services

User Interface Hurdles

Usability Viewpoint on Accessibility

  • Accessibility one aspect of usability
  • Understanding users, tasks
  • Disabled only part of audience for accessibility
  • Techniques to make it easy to use can also be used to make it accessible

Example: "The Online Disabled"

Some groups of users "behave disabled" online:

  • Slow connections, browse without graphics
  • No sound cards, not installed properly
  • Older browsers, undetected features
  • User settings, features turned off
  • Poor input devices (WebTV)
  • Poor output devices (PDAs)
  • You, sitting in the audience right now

Usability Engineering for the Web

  1. Walk a mile in my users' shoes
  2. Take a ride on their shoulders
  3. Embrace the Web
  4. Do usability sweeps
  5. Assume I will get it wrong the first time
  6. Sleep with the technology but do not marry it

Webmaster Needs

  1. Easier to do special configurations
  2. User testing with "online disabled"
  3. Accessibility is a feature, not a bug
  4. Checklists, guidelines (tools)
  5. Still iterative design
  6. Accessibility tradeoffs of each technology
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