Technological change

In the world of web 2.0 it's easy to get carried away with experimentation and rolling out application after application. I for one love to experiment with web 2.0 tools and on occasion unveil some really useful applications that enhance our service to the community. For those that like technology web 2.0 is an enchanting siren beckoning for us to navigate closer to it's shores. Are there any perils, well a few but the one I would like to focus on relates to the technical know how of our users.

Just how tech savvy are our local communities and how does/should this effect what we do. Well in an interesting article by Tom Haynes (The Three-E Strategy for Overcoming Resistance to Technological Change) the author mentions that a recent survey in the US indicates that only 8% of those surveyed are sophisticated users of web and mobile technologies; and 49% are only occasional information and communication technology users. Whilst I do not have any comparable statistics for Australia it is apparent that the number of households with Internet connections has increased rapidly since the 2001 census (from 1/3 to 2/3 of household having a household Internet connection ABS stats). This however does not indicate how competent the household users are with regards to using the Internet and or the frequency of use.

The level of computer and information literacy will have a significant impact on the success of any web based initiative. Let's face it, if you are tinkering away in your library and experimenting with web 2.0 applications then you will most likely be in the 8% category of fully immersed IT user. The danger for the tech savvy is that we let our passion for technology impair our judgement of a particular applications usefulness to our library community. A particular application might be mind blowingly brilliant, but if it freaks out 50% of our users because they do not have the necessary skills to utilise it, we will only alienate people and potentially make them even more hesitant to try other initiatives.

Haynes suggests that those responsible for a libraries IT platforms should ensure that they follow what is called the Three-E Strategy;
  • 'a technology should be evident to the user as potentially useful in making life easier'
  • 'a technology must be easy to use, least it makes the user feel inadequate'
  • 'technology must become essential to the user in going about his or her business'

Following such a strategy will not stifle innovation; it will however ensure that a library keeps the end user in mind to determine if a particular platform will serve a beneficial purpose. Too succeed it may require that a targeted marketing strategy is created to promote a new IT based service, coupled with an appropriate user education program. As the author indicates any new initiative is likely to challenge established ways of undertaking a particular task. Therefore the focus needs to be on how the new technology makes a particular task easier or enhances access to a collection.

If the technology is not intuitive the majority of people will not change their existing patterns of behaviour; and the project may fail. Obviously if your idea fits a self evident service niche and is easy to use you have more likelihood that it will become an essential service for your intended user group. So by all means keep on pushing the boundaries of web 2.0 exploration; but be mindful when selecting an application that it meets a need and it is easy to use otherwise, no matter how great an idea might be you may end up it's only fan.


pls@slnsw said…
I wonder if technology should be becoming more intuitive and rely less on sophisticated users [a bit like my level of understanding of how my car works when I'm driving it]?

I definitely agree that something "new and shiny" should be considered in context of both the client and the usefulness to library business. It was one of the things we thought a lot about in choosing the examples for the Learning 2.0 course.

Mylee (PLS)

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