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European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics         8th ERCIM Working Group "User Interfaces for All"

Online Communities for All

Jenny Preece

Prof. of Information Systems
University of Maryland Baltimore County
Baltimore, MD 21250

Usability is about users' experience at the human-computer interface. Sociability is about the social interactions between people mediated by software. Human-Computer Interaction researchers have been primarily concerned with usability. Only recently has attention focused on understanding how to support sociability. This trend is prompted by the phenomenal increase in people's use of the Internet for social interaction. Millions of people are communicating with their families, friends, neighborhood groups, political parties, support groups, hobby and interest groups across the world. PDAs and telephones are becoming increasingly important for this communication particularly for those who do not have access to high bandwidth.

In this talk I will describe a framework for usability and sociability that focuses on mapping the needs of diverse people and their purposes to the policies and software that support them. Success depends on understanding the
social and technical contexts in which the communication occurs.


Jenny Preece is Professor of Information Systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she was Department Chair for six years. Her research focuses on online communities and she is particularly interested in improving social interaction online (i.e., sociability). In her work she advocates a balanced approach to online community development that involves mapping sociability to usability using a participatory, community-centered design methodology. Some recent research projects include: developing evaluation heuristics for online communities, a multilevel analysis of an online patient support community, analysis of lurking and posting behavior, and cross-cultural interaction in online communities.

Jenny is author of eight books including: Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability (2000) and Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction (2002) coauthored with Yvonne Rogers and Helen Sharp. Both books are published by John Wiley & Sons. Jenny has written extensively about online communities and has given many keynote presentations. Some of her papers are available on www.ifsm.umbc.edu/~preece.


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