Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Grounded research on Enterprise2.0: the creation of a social information stream browser

For a number of years, because of our research group's context within a large corporation like Xerox, we have been studying the effectiveness of Enterprise2.0 tools. As Web2.0 consumer tools have changed over time, so has Enterprise2.0 tools. We recently described one such tool that is applicable to both consumer and enterprise users at the AVI conference that was held in Italy in May.

The primary challenge in doing Enterprise2.0 research is the need to ground the research in real data, real user behaviors, and real practices. The class of knowledge workers that has emerged after the proliferation of Web2.0 and Enterprise2.0 tools is distinctly different from past knowledge workers.

We conducted field studies of two groups of senior professionals, and found that the primary challenge for them was far beyond information overload. The knowledge workers now face not just information overload, but also channel overload. That is, they must understand the intricacies of different channels, how often their co-workers pay attention to those channels, and therefore, adjust their strategy for contributing the right content at the right time in the right places. They use these different channels to monitor status, progress updates of both individual as well as group activities, and they use these tools to forage and organize new information.

There is much detail in the research, including a step in which we first characterized the user behaviors and challenges, then a design iteration that was done with paper prototypes, and finally a software prototype was built and evaluated. To make a long story short, we found a number of important requirements for new Enterprise2.0 tools that we've summarized into a table below:

From this set of requirements, we decided to tackle the issue around channel overload via a faceted-search browser for social information streams. The figure below shows an example screenshot of our FeedWinnower system:

We previously blogged about FeedWinnower in April. As shown in the Figure above, we extract a number of meta-data from the social information stream, such as the author of the postings, the source and media types, as well as the topic of the posting, and the time when the posting was made.

Of course, we are not the only ones to have realized these needs. Email is one of the oldest social information streams. Neustaedter et al. [1] found that sender, receiver, and time were main attributes that people used to judge the importance of email. Whittaker et al. [2] noted that filing messages in folders is time-consuming and can be problematic if users’ focus changes frequently, suggesting the need for flexible interfaces to allow on-the-fly browsing of content. Hearst suggested that social tags provide an excellent basis for the formation of topic structures for faceted browsing [3], but stressed that acquisition of facet metadata is a problem remaining to be addressed. Related research also includes the design of blog search and browsing interfaces [4]. Hearst et al. [4] suggested design choices such as “the temporal/timelines aspect of blogging” and “automatic creation of a feed reader on the subtopics of interest”. Baumer and Fisher [5] proposed an interface for organizing blogs around a list of extracted topics. Probably the most closely related work is the tool by Dork et al. [6], which organizes RSS feeds along three dimensions: time, location, and tags. It also supports a faceted browsing interface. They assumed that feed items have titles and descriptions, time of creations, locations, and tags. A key difference is that we make no assumptions about the presence of tags or manually added metadata. Instead, we construct the topic facet from the content of the items.

In summary, studying two communities from a large IT enterprise, we characterized the work practices and information-management needs of a growing class of busy knowledge workers. We found that they need:
  1. information aggregated across multiple channels, including the combination of content and status updates,
  2. filters that help to easily find important content, and
  3. organization and sharing functions for individual and collaborative sensemaking.
I have a feeling that building these types of information stream interfaces will be the subject of our tool research in the group for some time.

[1] Neustaedter, C., Brush, A., and Smith, M. Beyond “From” and “Received”: Exploring the Dynamic of Email Triage. Proc. CHI’05, 1977-1980.

[2] Whittaker, S. and Sidner, C. Email Overload: Exploring Personal Information Management of Email. Proc. CHI’96, 276-283.

[3] Hearst, M. UIs for Faceted Navigation: Recent Advances and Remaining Open Problems. Proc. 2008 Workshop on Human-Computer Interaction and Information Retrieval.

[4] Hearst, M, Hurst, M., and Dumais, S. What Should Blog Search Look Like? Proc. 2008 ACM Workshop on Search in Social Media, 95-98.

[5] Baumer, E. and Fisher, D. Smarter Blogroll: An Exploration of Social Topic Extraction for Manageable Blogrolls. Proc. HICSS’08.

[6] Dork, M., Carpendale, S., Collins, C., and Williamson, C. VisGets: Coordinated Visualizations for Web-based Information Exploration and Discovery. IEEE Trans on Vis. and Computer Graphics, 14(6), 1205-1212.

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