Informatics

This week’s blog assignment is to find an example of informatics, write about it, and talk about whether I would conduct a normative, analytical, or critical study regarding its usage as presented on the web site or blog. I was going to look at one of the medical web sites such as WebMD but I thought that would be such a common choice. Another choice I considered was to find somebody’s blog about how they were managing their child’s ADHD and see what I could derive from reading it. That could be helpful in writing my thesis but I was afraid that I would get sucked in for so long that I would never get to write my blog entry. After thinking about it, I decided to write about the CNET web site as it is one that I frequent even though when I go there I usually end up leaving confused and with more questions. CNET, a part of CBS Interactive states its mission as “showing you the exciting possibilities of how technology can enhance and enrich your life. We provide you with information, tools, and advice that help you decide what to buy and how to get the most out of your tech.”

They accomplish this by providing product reviews (written and video), podcasts, software downloads, and news. They also issue product awards – CNET Editor’s Choice, CNET Best of CES (Consumer Electronics Show), the CTIA (International Association for Wireless Telecommunications Industry), and the CNET Download 5 Star award which is given for software downloads that get perfect scores for Interface, Features, Functionality, Stability, and Download. The information that can be found on CNET is not only credible and mostly accurate, but CNET is considered to be one of the go-to sources for consumers trying to decide on which technology products to buy.

In terms of choosing the approach to take when studying informatics in relation to CNET, again the three primary approaches are the normative, analytical, and critical approaches. The normative approach looks at other ways in which the technology tools could be designed, developed, and used. The analytical approach would look at institutional and cultural contexts in terms of theory and research. Finally, the critical approach examines and challenges the views regarding society’s use of technology. Given the descriptions of the three approaches as compared to CNET, it is very clear that it should be studied using the normative approach. The retrieval of information can become very cumbersome, frustrating and can sometimes lead a person down the wrong path in which the search ends up being a total waste of time. These are some of the issues that I encounter when I use the CNET site.

I really do like CNET and its editorial content. Their editorial staff is credible and they approach product reviews by testing products in labs, using the products themselves, examining user opinions, and showing product videos. What I don’t like is how hard it can be to sift through all of the information that can be found on the CNET site. For example, my beloved Nokia cell phone that I have owned for over three years is literally hanging by a thread and is about to break. So now I have to figure out what in the world I am going to buy next. I have been thinking about it, and I know I don’t want the iPhone because I like buttons. I don’t want a Blackberry because it seems so corporate.

Right now we are using T-Mobile as our carrier, and because I am familiar with them and their products, I thought I would test my idea about the normative approach on the CNET web site by researching T-Mobile phones. I clicked on the Reviews tab and then cell phones, and then as I was ready to click on T-Mobile (choose by service provider), I just knew there was going to be a problem in trying to sift through all of their information. By clicking on T-Mobile I would be able to see 165 different phones from this carrier. There was just no way that I was going to read 165 product reviews especially when I know for sure that T-Mobile doesn’t even offer anywhere near that amount of choices. However, I needed to see what the 165 consisted of if I was going to stick with my decision about the normative approach.

So I clicked on T-Mobile and the 165 different phones were displayed in a grid with pictures, brief specs, number of stars (for editor and user reviews), prices, and where to buy. I scrolled down a bit and discovered that I was definitely right about there not really being 165 different phones (well technically). They display each phone separately in each of the different colors that are available. For example, the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G (which is not out yet), will be available in white, black, or merlot. Therefore the MyTouch 3G was listed three separate times, one listing to represent each color. In terms of the editor reviews, the exact same reviews appear for each of the colors. What is not consistent is the way the user reviews are listed for each. The MyTouch is not available to the public yet, so it was difficult to figure out if CNET gave certain people the product in advance in order for there to be user reviews ahead of time, or if people had gotten their hands on them some other way. Either way, there were 11 user reviews for the white phone, 6 for the black phone, and zero for the merlot phone. What is strange about the way the reviews are set up is that except for the color, the phones are exactly the same. However, each color has its own set of user reviews with no overlap present for the black and white phones. Why didn’t they just combine the listings so that the user can go through them all at once without having to navigate through reviews for each phone color? Under both of the black and white models, the product was given mixed reviews but if the reviews were listed together, it would make for a more complete story.

I could also search for my phone by going to the CNET cell phone finder. I didn’t figure that out until a pop-up appeared in my window when I left the site static for several minutes. A person can search for the phone by starting with the carrier, type of phone, and features. Once you go through that process, CNET will give you the results. Again, you can click on the results and look at the editor and user reviews, full product specs, and even a video. This was almost less confusing as you can really pick the features that you want and during the process it will tell you how many phones meet that description. However, I found a discrepancy in information right off the bat. When I chose T-Mobile as my carrier, there should have been 165 different phones to choose from, right? Wrong!!! There were 34 different phones to choose from (10 smart phones and 24 regular). I decided to click on smart phones because I need one, and the phones were further broken down by whether it runs on Windows Mobile, Android, Blackberry, Palm, Symbian, or any of the above.

I clicked on Blackberry because there were seven of those to choose from, and then I was taken to the features screen. Here lies the confusion, as they list various features – camera, 3G, Bluetooth, speakerphone, world phone, full alphabetic keyboard, push to talk, GPS, video recording, or not important. When they do that they tell you how many Blackberry phones meet each criterion. For example, four of them have cameras, and one has GPS. However, when I chose to filter my results by camera and GPS, the results gave me four phones to select from. It completely ignored the “AND” qualifier. So assuming that one of the four does match my criteria of having a camera and GPS, I had to click on each of them individually to see which one was in fact a match. That drove me crazy. As you can see from the searches that I have conducted, both ways of trying to find a phone brought questions and wasted time.

Again, I will say that CNET does have a wealth of credible information where it should be the go-to web site for consumers looking for technology products. The problems that I encountered during my cell phone search are only a few of the examples of what needs to be addressed on the CNET site. By taking the normative approach in relation to CNET, one can examine how users make the most of the available tools on CNET, how they conduct their research, and where improvements can be made. As I was going through the process of searching for a new cell phone, I was trying to figure out how much time I could have saved if the interface was not only slightly more user friendly but also if the information was laid out in a more organized way. I also wonder if the design of the site has made any impact on the phone that I am going to end up with. Either way, at the end of the day I will be getting a new phone. As much as I will miss my little Nokia, I know it is time to move on. As loyal as I have been to T-Mobile, it’s time to say good-bye to them as well. I am making the switch to AT&T. Oh, and I got completely sucked in. I am getting the iPhone.

Friending Facebook

Okay so our latest assignment in my Computer Mediated Communication class is to join a social networking site and write about it. The point is to explain the site as if others don’t know about it at all or even what it can do. Most people would be jumping for joy at this assignment, but not me. First of all, I have been trying to NOT get involved with these kinds of sites forever (well as long as they have been around) as I really can’t see much value in them. I am so darn busy with school, family, dealing with a hyper Wheaten Terrier, and driving my kids around that the last thing I need is to start something where I actually have to post random and frivolous information about myself, and then also have to read random and frivolous information about others. To me the whole concept seems pretty pointless.

As far as having to explain what these sites do, I could just call my 20 year old cousin Tommy and ask him to give me a running commentary. He would do an excellent job of it, as I am sure he has been a member since he became eligible to join. As I am an older Generation X-er, I think I just missed the cut-off in terms of feeling a strong desire to join one of these sites. Over a year ago when I was taking another class, the people in the class who were over the age of 35 did not have an account with a social networking site; those under the age of 35 belonged to one or two. I was definitely a member of the first group.
Shortly after that class began, I joined Linkedin which is more of a business networking site, and I also ended up joining Facebook several months ago after an old friend friended me. I got the invitation to join and be her friend (I already thought I was her friend) joined, and then suspended my account as I started to receive spam from other people’s Facebook accounts. That was a pretty annoying experience. However, I did reactivate my account at the beginning of this semester because somehow I just knew that I was going to have to really friend Facebook.

Anyway, for those of you who are not familiar with Facebook, it is a social networking site, which means it can be thought of as a web-based community of people who are brought together based on some commonality. This commonality could equal friendships, or a club, or hobby. Founded in 2004, by three Harvard students, their goal was to facilitate a better way to share information amongst fellow students. The membership was expanded to include other colleges and high schools, and now anyone age thirteen or older can join. Membership has grown to over 200 million people worldwide, and their stated mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

With that said, I logged onto my account to get reacquainted. If you don’t have an account it is extremely easy to set one up. All you need to do is to go to http://www.facebook.com and you will be taken to the home page where you can log in if you have an account, or create one if you don’t. The directions are pretty straightforward to create and account, and once that is accomplished you can create a personal profile. To accomplish this, click on the profile tab and fill in the blanks. You can list your name, hometown, address, birthday, relationship status, reason for joining, your political or religious views, favorite books, movies, television shows, activities, interests, and sayings. You can also list where you went to school as well as your employment history. The other day when I was working on my account I edited my profile to show my relationship status as being married. The area that shows recent activity (the wall), stated that Anita is now married. Hey, wait a minute. Anita has been married for almost 12 years. That doesn’t make any sense. Well the wall let me comment on that and I did. The wall is the area where you post information about yourself, upload pictures or videos, and give people updates. Each member has his or her own wall and if the person belongs in your network he or she can post comments on your wall or upload photos. In another section called photos, you can actually upload entire albums for people to see. This is a pretty handy feature if you are too lazy to upload to a specific photo site like Snapfish and choose email addresses to send the pictures to. Another interesting feature is to be able to post events such as letting friends know when you will be in town. You can also send messages to your friends who are in your network.

Speaking of friends, it is really pointless to have a Facebook account if you don’t have any friends to begin with. To find a potential friend to join your network, you can search the Facebook directory via your email address book, by name, school, place of employment or other organizations. Once you find a person you know, you can send out a friend request. Facebook will send out the request to the people you’ve selected letting them know that you want them to join your social network. If they say yes, then you will have access to each other’s information. If they say no, then I guess you can wonder why they are even your friends to begin with.

Anyway, aside from friending people and keeping in touch, there are certainly many frivolous activities that you can take part in on Facebook. For example, you can join a network of other Facebook members in a group dedicated to a particular interest. I am from Red Sox nation so when my cousin forwarded the Red Sox Sweet Caroline wave and asked me to keep the wave going, I had to do it. The Red Sox group had other waves going such as the Yankees Suck wave – SWEET! You can also take quizzes such as the one I took to see how girly I really am. Apparently I am 100% girly all because of the amount of shoes and dresses I own. Well I also hike, rollerblade, canoe, and I used to catch frogs in the brook all the time when I was a kid. This doesn’t really sound 100% girly to me. Whatever. But anyway, all of this stuff that I have just described is yours for absolutely free! What isn’t free is what is called the virtual gift. A virtual gift is a little icon that you can send to your friends by paying for them with credits. Basically each gift is worth 10 credits which translate to $1 per gift. There are just so many useless virtual gifts to choose from. You can buy virtual birthday cakes, flowers, disco balls, cell phones, pink poodle skirts, corndogs, Jell-o molds, and signs that say “Kick Me.” It truly gives a whole new meaning to the saying that it’s the thought that counts.

Another feature that Facebook offers has to do with being able to remain anonymous to outsiders while still being able to communicate with your friends in your network. You have the option of being able to adjust your privacy settings so that only those who are in your network can have access to your detailed profile and other information that you post. If someone is looking for you but isn’t in your network, they won’t be able to see your personal information. Facebook, will then give that person the option to friend you, and then if you say yes, then you can begin talking with each other. The only other concern I have in relation to security issues is the fact that anyone can create their online persona and pretend to be a 13 year-old boy trying to friend a 13 year-old girl, but in reality the 13 year-old boy is really a 47 year-old sexual predator who belongs on the registered sex offender list. That is just something to keep in mind.

Well, even with all of my whining about Facebook I actually do see the value in being a part of a social networking site. We have lived in five states in twelve years of marriage and we have met many people along the way. We have our old college friends who are living in Massachusetts, and then we have all the others that we have met during our time living in all of those other states. Then of course, we have our relatives. In the old days when everyone lived near each other, we would be seeing those relatives at least six times per year, or a lot more often depending on where they fell within the food chain. But now between friends, relatives, and business acquaintances, we know people who are living in California, Connecticut, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Georgia, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Texas, and New Jersey. We also have very good friends who moved back to India last year and another set of friends who are moving back to France after living here for three years.

So now, I can see between, school, family, dealing with a hyper Wheaten Terrier, and driving my kids around, I don’t have time to pick up the phone and say hello to everyone! Also, when talking with our friends in India and France, it is definitely easier to speak with them via a social networking site versus the phone. There are some language barriers present that make it difficult to converse with them in person so to try to talk to them on the phone could become frustrating for all parties. Also, we are definitely not going to be able to fly out to India or France and see them every year, or even every three years, but if we can keep in touch with each other via Facebook then that would be a positive. Being able to see pictures of their children and hear about what is going on with their lives and being able to respond in closer to real time instead of having to hear about it from the dreaded annual Christmas letter is much more meaningful. I guess it is just the stupidity that goes along with being a member of Facebook that really bothers me. I don’t want to have 350 friends in my social network and have to keep up with their lives. I don’t want to meet my cousin’s new girlfriend by friending her on Facebook. I also don’t want to send virtual gifts to people, nor do I want to receive any. I will say that nothing beats a face-to-face conversation, or a video conference, or even a telephone call. However, Facebook can be the tool to enhance your relationships rather than have Facebook run them.

Online Communities – Friendships, Facilitators, or Both?

I was able to read about FledgeWing after tracking down its web site and scrolling through to see what it was they were trying to offer. The link that was on our virtual classroom board was not working so I had to search on my own. I only bring this up because as much as I love technology, this is a prime example of how when it doesn’t work it can cause problems if you rely on it too heavily to complete an assignment. Anyway, I left the FledgeWing site with much intrigue. I graduated with a degree in marketing from Northeastern University in Boston, and if you are not familiar with Northeastern, its 100 year-old co-op program is considered to be one of the largest and most innovative in the world. When I was a student there, I gained experience in fields that helped me to not only decide what I wanted to do (advertising and marketing), but more importantly what I didn’t want to do – accounting!! Basically you would go to school for five years and during that time period you would alternate between taking classes and working at a job related to your major. One of the best parts – you would get paid!! Even better – you could graduate with a full-time job which is truly a novel idea in these crazy times.

At Northeastern we had academic advisors and co-op advisors. The co-op advisors worked with the companies that Northeastern has partnered with for years to try to place students in a job. They also spread the word to other companies about the co-op program to try to create new partnerships with other large and even smaller companies alike. For the students it meant getting contacts and actually going on interviews like a grownup person and landing jobs in our intended fields. It is definitely better than putting lifeguard at the local pool on your resume, but maybe not as much fun. But now with FledgeWing, entrepreneurial students can have access to case studies, mentors, jobs, and networking events that bring them together with professional entrepreneurs and investors.  Northeastern has jumped on the bandwagon of FledgeWing and is one of 155 universities that sponsor this site. Some of the other schools include Dartmouth, Stanford, Babson, and Columbia. This is definitely a win-win for students and universities as the academic experience is enhanced by adding a real world component that helps students market themselves in the job world.

Remember Northeastern drop-out Shawn Fanning? His founding of Napster paved the way for the new and improved (and legal Napster) as well as other sites that offer music downloads. Fanning wasn’t meant for co-op. He was meant to create innovative companies such as SNOCAP, another digital music site as well as his latest, Rupture, a social networking site for gamers.  If he didn’t have the help of his uncle in getting Napster off the ground then he probably would have needed the connections that FledgeWing offers.

But enough about FledgeWing. My assignment was to track down another online community, evaluate it, and apply what I learned from “Neighboring in Netville” to the site I picked. If I were really cool then I would have picked a hip site like Fanning’s Rupture. However, since I tend to be practical and I am writing my thesis about family communication patterns of households with ADHD children, I looked for an online community for parents who have ADHD children. It wasn’t that hard; right away I found Facebook.com/adhdmoms. At first I thought it was an online community for mothers who have ADHD, which could have been helpful as I sometimes feel like I have ADHD given everything I have to juggle. If I could only sit for one hour straight! The site is actually a community for mothers who have ADHD children of their own, which between my son and my thesis, could be helpful. On this site moms have access to vent and share experiences about dealing with their ADHD children and all of the issues that go with it as well as receive professional advice. This community gives moms a resource where they can communicate with other mothers who understand what they are going through. For example, the discreditable stigma that goes along with this condition sometimes makes it more difficult to explain what exactly is going on with the child who is affected by this disorder. I would have to say that having to deal with a child with ADHD can be pretty draining so if this community can give me advice on how to better handle the situation, then I am all for it. I don’t want to make friends with these people; I just want some expertise. My idea of a community is that it brings people together based on location or similar interests. There has to be a common interest and you almost have to share a passion for a particular subject or activity for the community to work. However, I don’t equate that with friendship. I think that maybe the NET-L in Netville helped those who were reticent to break the ice in terms of meeting others, but I don’t think the reason friendships were formed was because they happened to live in the same neighborhood. NET-L was the facilitator that brought the friendships together. The Facebook.com/adhdmoms community is just another facilitator to bring me together with others who are dealing with an ADHD child. There is still only so much I would even talk about regarding my son’s condition in this community. If I really wanted to talk to someone, I would talk to a friend.