If you build it, will they come? The importance of hearing the voice of the users

Posted by HR Analytics on Thursday, July 25, 2013 Under: Org Psychology

If you build a Web 2.0 platform for collaboration, collaborators won’t always come. The role of a collaborators or the endusers is just as critical as the role of the developer/builder of the platform. Without the collaborators or the end users, the technology is useless. And just because the technology is available for use does not mean users will be flocking to the technology. Knowing how users experience the collaborative platform is key in gauging whether it was a successful development and deployment. And even in the case when there are contributors and collaborators, how do we know we are not missing contributions from other users who hesitate because of difficulty with the use of the technology? It is now getting much easier to develop collaborative Web tools and an increasing number of organizations are deploying these Web 2.0 tools.  However, organizations who have launched these tools might not be getting full participation and might be missing out on some critical information from experts due to some usability issues. And the solution could be as simple as first identifying whether usability is a hindrance and next is asking the users about their experiences. Not all users are equal so don't expect your users to be tech-savvy.  If you want full participation in your collaboration portal, you want to make sure you are hearing from your users at all levels of tech-savvyness.

Despite the rapid growth and widespread use of Web 2.0, there seems to be a gap in the research and in the understanding of the users’ actual interface with Web 2.0 platforms. Web 2.0 technologies are designed to be simple and easy to use. Its implementation in any organization is also not too technically complex. The success of implementation is dependent more on the organizational culture and whether the users will embrace the technology or not. Who the users are and what the users’ needs are should be primary considerations.

One of the most important first steps in getting a collaborative tool launed is defining who the users are. Knowing who the users are and what they do in the portal are key factors in the successful deployment of a portal. In a Web 2.0 site designed for collaboration, all users are expected to input and post information, make edits and comments, and keep the discussions lively. However, only a very small percentage of the users will actually contribute.  About 90% of collaborative portal users are simply ‘audience’ or lurkers who do not actively contribute and about 9% are “editors” (Nielsen, 2002).  That is a very imbalanced ratio when the goal is to have equal participation among users.  In such collaboration, the discussions might be missing out on other important thoughts and ideas.  We certainly want technology to be the facilitator and not the hindrance to getting to those ideas out.  One contributing factor to non-usage is ease of use.  Research studies found that ease of use is key to a successful Web 2.0 deployment (see Ebner, Holzinger, & Maurer, 2007) and should therefore be assessed.  Not all users are of the same equal level or experience when it comes to navigating sites.  Web developers with their focus on getting the site up and running may not always be aware of who the users will be.  It is important that the connection between end-users and developers be established as early as possible somewhere along the development stage.  

There are several important and common factors that organizations take into account when implementing a new technology such as business or economic factors (i.e., cost of the technology and the business case for using such technology), capability, actual utility, effectiveness, and efficiency. There is a lot of focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ but what is often missed is the ‘who’-- who the users are. What is often understated in the development is the users’ experience of the technology. There is an understandable need to focus on the development and the deployment of the technology, but the satisfaction and perception of the users must not be overlooked as those factors often drive actual usage and success of the collaborative website. The adage “if you build it, they will come” is not always self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to collaborative technology. It must be further emphasized that when it comes to collaborative web technology, users are already inundated with information, tasks, and other workload and so if the technology is not built with ease and usability, they might not come. 

For more on this as well as for references, see this paper available here: http://www.academia.edu/4096720/If_You_Build_It_They_Will_Come...Or_Not_Building_Web_2.0_Site

In : Org Psychology 

Tags: usability  collaborative technology  user research 
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