Archive | December, 2011

Easy is Hard

12 Dec
At a recent meeting, I overheard a snippet of a conversation about usability: “Application developers needed to do more than improving the usability of their software. They need to look holistically at what they are trying to enable for the user, and make that easy for the user.”

As someone who has been developing software for a number of years the challenge is that easy is hard. There are a few reasons for this:

  • To make something easy for the user, you really need to deeply understand what it is that they are trying to accomplish, which really means that you have to understand how they view their roles and responsibilities within the organization. And you can’t discount the importance of goals such as “make the user look good to their boss.”
  • Complicating this first point is the fact that a given piece of software will be used by a variety of people who have different roles, goals, and levels of expertise. For example, for the online community platform that we make, two obvious roles that we want to serve are the community manager and the end user, but their needs can be quite different.
  • As technologists, we are aware of a vast universe of possibilities that could be incorporated into software, and our general inclination seems to be to try and stuff as much as we can into the box. Unfortunately, an onslaught of features rarely translates into a satisfying user experience.

We really want to make AssociCom something that seamlessly helps people create active and productive online communities. But to do that, we need your help. We need your guidance about what is important, and your thoughts on how to achieve that. So, let us know what you think! Strike up a conversation with us on Facebook, send your thoughts our way on Twitter, or even just reply to this posting.

Social Capital

5 Dec

The term social capital gained popular currency when Robert Putnam wrote his book Bowling Alone – The Collapse and Revival of American Community. The book is well researched and very pertinent to associations because it refers to networks of people and their value:

“Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a university education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so do social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups” [from Wikipedia]

Putnam looked at all types of political, civic, religious, professional and even informal social networks, groups and associations. He noted that professional associations  roughly doubled in size between 1945 and 1965 but then the twenty year boom suddenly slowed, halted, and in almost all cases reversed. Many associations continued to grow but effectively lost “market share” as the mean membership rate as a percentage of number of professionals in the field dropped after 1990.

At the end of the chapter “What Killed Civic Engagement? – Summing Up” Putnam said “Work, sprawl, TV, and generational change are all important parts of the story, but important elements in our mystery remain unsolved.” The book was widely read and it’s author was  consulted by Presidents and Prime Ministers.

But that was ten years ago before the explosion in virtual/online communities such as Facebook. Could virtual/online communities be the social networks that revitalize civic engagement and social capital? Some more recent studies: