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.

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