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Creating Usability and Sociability in Online Social Spaces

8 Jun 2006

Creating successful online social spaces requires attention to usability and sociability. Online social interaction involves individuals interacting with the technology (ie, usability) and with each other via the technology (ie, sociability). Attending to issues such as how users create and send messages, and communicate non-verbal cues, are examples of usability design; attending to moderation, facilitation, politeness, leadership, and social support online are examples of sociability design. Both are needed for thriving social interaction online.

Jenny discusses examples of usability and sociability from online patient support communities, and from communities for children aged 7-9 years old. These children do not know each other and do not speak each other’s languages. The aim of this project is to support cross-cultural communication without teaching foreign languages or providing language translation. Safety online is essential. Innovative tools enable children to extract pictures from books in the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL), make drawings, create online dictionaries, and ask each other questions.

Individual and group identity are key ingredients for successful communication. Consequently, much attention has to be given to off-line activities as well as to what happens online.

Evidence is presented from ethnographic studies involving children from the USA communicating with children from Hungary, Argentina and Mexico.