Personal home pages on the World Wide Web a simple version of a knowledge net?

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1 Department of Numerical Analysis and Computing Science IPLab-140 Personal home pages on the World Wide Web a simple version of a knowledge net? Kristina Groth Interaction and Presentation Laboratory (IPLab)

2 Kristina Groth Personal home pages on the World Wide Web a simple version of a knowledge net? Report number: IPLab-140 Publication: In Trends of communication, no 4, pp of author: Reports can be ordered from: Interaction and Presentation Laboratory (IPLab) Numerical Analysis and Computing Science (Nada) Royal Institure of Technology (KTH) S STOCKHOLM, Sweden telephone; fax: URL:

3 Personal Home Pages on the World Wide Web a Simple Version of a Knowledge Net? Kristina Groth Interaction and Presentation Laboratory (IPLab) Dept. of Numerical Analysis and Computing Science Royal Institute of Technology Sweden 15th December 1997 Abstract A common type of pages on the World Wide Web concerns individual persons. These personal home pages often include information about activities, interest areas etc, and show what knowledge and interests different persons have. In a knowledge net the idea is to distribute information about peoples knowledge about different topics. To do this references to who-knows-what is given. This report presents an interview study of personal home pages; what information is included, how it is presented etc. The results show that personal home pages can be of use in a, or even seen as a simple, knowledge net. 1 Introduction 1.1 Background The social infrastructure of an organization is important for how well people collaborate. Each individual within an organization has a mental model of information about who is working in a project, what persons to ask about different matters etc. If these individual mental models become global and available for everyone in the organization many interesting possibilities arise, e.g., the collaboration and social activity between the individuals of the organization might increase. The interest for Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) applications (or groupware) has steadily increased during the last decade. Problems when developing such applications have been many but, nevertheless, a number of CSCW applications are used today, e.g., systems and calendar systems (Grudin and Palen, 1995). Grudin and Palen argue that the reasons why CSCW applications are more successful today than ten years ago are that today organizations have common hardware platforms that support such systems, that they provide strong technical support to install and maintain such software, that people are more comfortable with computer technology today, and, finally, that computer products of today are more powerful. One type of CSCW applications are those that deal with people s knowledge about different tasks, e.g., Answer Garden (Ackerman and Malone, 1990), NETWORK-HYDRA (Fischer et al., 1992), and gibis (Conklin and Begeman, 1988). In Answer Garden a hierarchy of questions can be browsed in order to find an answer at the end-node. If the answer is not found the question can be 1

4 sent by to an expert who answers the question and stores both the question and the answer in the hierarchy for future use. NETWORK-HYDRA consists of a group memory with information about general design principles, specific projects and design rationale. gibis, a graphical version of the IBIS system, is a hypertext system for solving large design problems. Common for these systems are that they store knowledge about different tasks in a database and then have a browser with which the database can be searched. One limitation with applications like these is, due to the lack of context, that it can be difficult to interpret the knowledge found. In a so called knowledge net (Groth, 1997) a different approach is used. Instead of storing the knowledge itself, the knowledge net application stores references to people with certain knowledge, i.e., references to who-knows-what instead of references to what. This means that instead of finding the answer to a question the user of the application is directed to a person with the specific knowledge, an expert. The expert may then be contacted in person, by , telephone or in any other suitable way. The working principle of a knowledge net is to give a description of the knowledge that is represented in an organization and then help people find the right person to ask or discuss problems with. These ideas are based on the earlier work with TheKnowledgeNet (Marmolin, 1991), where the vision was a distributed library of documented and undocumented individual knowledge that is made available to all team members by communication. TheKnowledgeNet was to be integrated with CoDesk (Tollmar and Sundblad, 1995), a computer supported cooperative work environment. Together they would support a social work situation in which collaboration among peers can take place by sharing and integration of knowledge. A knowledge net can be of use for example when new employees start to work, and when specific competences are needed within a project. The main idea behind a knowledge net is supported by several studies (Kraut and Streeter, 1995; Waterson et al., 1997) Here it is shown that other persons are the best resource when looking for answers to questions about different matters. In most cases persons nearby and with knowledge about the domain are preferred as a source instead of, for example, a help desk. In a knowledge net the idea is to distribute information about peoples knowledge about specific topics. How to enter the information about who-knows-what and how to keep it up-to-date are crucial aspects for the usability of a knowledge net. One idea is to let each individual, not necessary by hand, enter the information and thereby be able to influence what is written about themselves. The user of a knowledge net interacts with the system by searching for a competence within a specific area. The result of the search will be a set of different solutions, including some kind of evaluation. This gives the user a possibility to choose the person best suitable for the task. A home page on the World Wide Web is the intended entry point of a logical information structure (usually called a web site) from which all other pages on the site may be reached, directly or via other pages, by hypertext links. If a home page is written by and about an individual, it is called a personal home page. Personal home pages give an individual user of the Internet, or an intranet (i.e., a local Internet), an opportunity to find personal information about other users. Personal home pages on the Web can, therefore, be seen as a source of knowledge about individuals within a network. The network is either global, i.e., available to everyone on the Internet, or local, i.e., available only to the specific users of a certain intranet (physically these individuals may be distributed geographically). One advantage with the Web is that it is not intrusive. Erickson (Erickson, 1996) points out that an important difference between finding personal information using the Web and using or phone is that the person searching for information is not obligated to the person giving the information. According to Erickson a kind of social debt is created when one asks for information from somebody if you ask a person for a paper then that person might expect you to read and comment on it. 2

5 1.2 Rationale There is a need for empirical data about what kind of information a knowledge net should contain, how the information should be entered into the knowledge net and presented, and how the information is to be used. The type of information necessary in a knowledge net is the kind that can reveal something about the knowledge a person has about a specific topic. Different topics and persons must be represented in the knowledge net, as well as the existing relations between them. The relations can be a result of a person rating his/hers own knowledge about the topic, or extracting the knowledge a person has about the topic from other kind of information sources, such as written documents, project descriptions (in which the person is taking part), and even personal home pages (if written in a suitable way). Personal home pages on the Web appear to contain the kind of information that could be of interest in a knowledge net. People tend to describe themselves (who they are, what they are working with etc) on their home page, some in more detail than others. How people use the web medium, what they write and publish are interesting questions with implications for building knowledge nets. Information on personal home pages that can be of use in a knowledge net are about activities that the person is or has been involved in, interest areas within work and maybe also personal interest areas, education and references to research reports or other written documents. It can also be of interest to know how a person with a certain knowledge can be contacted and, if the organization is large, to have a picture of that person. This makes it interesting to see what users choose to say about themselves on their home pages and why. It is also of interest to see if people use personal home pages of other persons as a simple knowledge net and reasons for people doing or not doing so. Also, to see what type of information people find interesting on other persons home pages can give some indications of what type of information that could be valuable in a knowledge net. This can also be indicated by studying if people have been contacted by anyone because of any specific type of information on their home page. 2 Method The present study was performed using structured face to face interviews in combination with a demonstration of the subject s personal home page. All in all 22 interviews were performed among three different groups of people from late spring to late summer The first group consisted of eight researchers (one female and seven male, and with the average age of 35 years) at a university (the res-uni group). The second group consisted of six researchers (three female and three male, and with the average age of 32 years) from a research institute (the res-inst group). The third group consisted of eight engineers (three female and five male, and with the average age of 32.5 years) at a larger development company within the telecommunication area (the dev-com group). This company had an intranet accessible from company offices in a number of countries. All persons interviewed were chosen because they had a personal home page on the Web. No one that was asked for an interview declined to take part. Within the groups all persons, except one, belonged to the same department within their organization. The focus of this study was background of how and how often the subjects used the Web when and why the subjects made their home page 3

6 how information is presented on a personal home page what the subjects choose to include on their home pages and why what type of information that the subjects find relevant on other persons home pages 3 Results 3.1 Use of the Web Most of the subjects had used the Web for about two years. Some persons within the res-inst group had started to use the Web earlier than 1994, whereas some within the dev-com group had only quite recently begun to use it. The Web was used at least once a week by all subjects. Most subjects used it every day. The time spent using the Web varied between a couple of minutes to several hours per day. The average time, in all three groups, appears to be approximately one hour per day. All subjects were quite familiar with the Internet and used on a daily basis. Most of them also used News, and some used ftp and other Internet services. The most common activity when using the Web was to search for some specific type of information. The information searched for most often was related to the subject s work. Eleven of the subjects, all from the research area, searched for articles or research reports. Also, to search for other persons home pages were common. Ten of the subjects, all but one from the research area, did this. The reasons given for this were to find more information about a specific area, such as links to other sites recommended by the owner of the page, and to find information about the owner, such as a picture, contact information and written research reports. This, that people find information on personal home pages useful, is especially interesting in regard to knowledge nets. To search for software was also something seven subjects from all three groups found useful. Other examples of information searched for were finding solutions to specific problems, conferences, courses and organizations. Many subjects also used the Web to find information about private interests, such as weather reports, apartments, friends, movies etc. All subjects returned frequently to the same Web pages to look for information, i.e., they usually kept bookmark lists with sites that were often visited. This is well in line with Nielsen (Nielsen, 1996) who notes that most users probably spend the major part of their time at a limited number of Web sites that meet their needs. Tauscher and Greenberg (Tauscher and Greenberg, 1997) also found that users tend to revisit pages of certain categories, e.g., start-up documents, indices, home pages of various kinds, including their own, and search engines. They also list some reasons for revisiting a page, e.g., that the information on the page has changed, the page is to be further explored, and the page has a special purpose, e.g., it is a home page or a search engine. Reasons for visiting new pages were, e.g., to explore a particular site, the page was recommended by a colleague, or the page was found while browsing for another one. 3.2 How information is presented on the personal home pages The personal home pages studied seldom looked alike, except in a few cases when a subject had used another person s home page as a template. When classifying the pages depending on the layout two types were used; those consisting of only one page and those consisting of one toppage with links to several sub-pages. It was found that using one page was more common than using one top-page and several sub-pages, especially in the two research groups (see figure 1). When classifying the pages depending on how the text was placed on the pages two types were used; top-down and layouted. Top-down is when the page is written as an ordinary 4

7 Figure 1: Personal home pages consisting of only one page were more common than those using a top-page with links to several sub-pages. document, i.e., it can be read straight through with paragraphs separated by headers, but with links to subpages of the home page or to other interesting places and layouted is when the text is grouped together by using different sections on the page, i.e., the text can be in two columns or separated by some graphics. It was found, also in this case especially in the two research groups, that top-down was more common than layouted (see figure 2). Figure 2: Personal home pages usually have the text organized in a top-down manner, i.e., they are intended to be read straight through. Even though 41% of the subjects (see table 1) wrote their home page in a more traditional way (one page and top-down) there is an interest for layout on such pages. Is this something that can increase the interest for a knowledge net? There might be a need for adding a personal touch to the presentation of a reference. one page top page top-down 41 % 18 % 59 % layouted 23 % 18 % 41 % 64 % 36 % 100 % Table 1: The two types of layout used in combination with the two types used for distributing the text. 5

8 The amount of text on the home pages (including all sub-pages when appropriate) has been divided into three groups; less than one page of size A4, one to two pages, and more than two pages. It was found that about one third of the subjects fall into each of these three groups, but the subjects in the dev-com group generally had a larger amount of text on their pages. The reason for this is probably that some of the pages in the dev-com group were used to distribute more detailed information about on-going projects. This shows that the amount of text to enter is not in itself a problem. 3.3 The information on a personal home page One type of information that can indicate what knowledge a person has about different topics is information about different activities or projects that the person is involved in. This was something that was common among all subjects, at least including information about projects they were involved in at the moment. However, the level of detail of this type of information was not very high. The reason for including this type of information was, mainly, that the subjects wanted to show other people what they were working with. Those subjects who had not included this kind of information wanted to include it. On the other hand, to write about previous projects that the subject had been involved in was not very common. Only three of the subjects had included that kind of historical information on their home page. Another type of information that can be of interest in a knowledge net is about the persons background, e.g., education and interest areas. This not only indicates what knowledge a person has about specific topics, but also what perspective the person has on these topics. Information about personal background such as education was only included by six of the subjects and it was usually not very detailed. Why so few included this kind of information has to be further investigated in a later study. To include information about personal interests was not very common. Only seven of the subjects did so. However, seven of the subjects that had not included this kind of information said that they would not mind doing so. Of the subjects, 15 had included, although not on a very high level of detail, information about their interest areas within their own field of work. The reasons for including this type of information was much the same as for including information about projects, i.e., to inform people about the area in which they work. Some of the researchers saw the Web as a medium for distributing their publications and some of the persons within the dev-com group saw it as a medium to use when distributing project documentation. Nine of the subjects included references to reports or documents they had written. Due to its global coverage and the fact that all Web documents can be easily down-loaded the Web is a very useful tool for distributing documents. It is also important to know how to reach a person that is referenced in a knowledge net. In fact, the most common thing to have on a personal home page was contact information to work, such as address, , etc. A few subjects also included information about how to be contacted at home. A picture of the expert that is referenced in a knowledge net can be of help if the expert is unknown. Almost all subjects had or wanted to have a picture of themselves on their home page. Some of the reasons for including a picture were so people may recognize me when I meet them it gives a nice impression to put a name to a face. 1 1 The respondent remembered faces but had difficulties in remembering names. 6

9 Those who did not want their picture on the home page said that they might want to have one on another page that is linked to the home page, or that they might want to have one if they could get a professional picture. Not many of the subjects had or wanted to have pictures of their family on the home page because it was found to be too personal. The different types of information and how many subjects that included each that kind of information is summarized in figure 3. Figure 3: Contact information was the most common type of information to include on the home page, but also information about projects was quite common. All these categories of information are of interest for a knowledge net. Almost all subjects had links to other web pages on their home page. These links were, in most cases, intended for other persons who read the page, but some subjects said that the links were also intended for themselves. Reasons for this were that it was easier to group the links on the page than as bookmarks (earlier versions of Netscape did not have the facility of grouping the bookmarks) and because it was useful when using the Web from another location, e.g., from a personal computer at home. A few of the subjects had links on their home page to be used only by themselves. Links on a web page can be seen as a collection of references to sources of information, i.e., the page visited refers to other pages which includes the information searched for. Thus, links on a personal home page can be seen as a knowledge net within a knowledge net. 3.4 Interesting information on other persons home pages One way to see what type of information people might find useful in a knowledge net is to see what they look for on other persons home pages. All subjects found other persons home pages interesting and useful. However, the kind of information they found interesting on such pages differed a lot. Many of the researchers were interested in research reports and to see some personal information about a person they were going to contact. As some subjects said: 7

10 if I want to contact a person I first look at that persons home page to get an impression sometimes I look at authors of articles that I am reading I am curious about persons with similar interests. Information about projects was another interesting part of a home page, especially among the subjects in the dev-com group. To see other persons links and other information of common interest both concerning work and hobbies were other parts that some subjects found interesting. Some subjects have friends living in other countries and they look at those persons home pages to get information about what they are doing. Also, to see if a person has been contacted by other persons due to some type of information on the home page can give an indication of what type of personal information that can be of interest in a knowledge net. About half of the subjects had been contacted at least once by an unknown person that had read their home page. Some of the subjects had been contacted more than once. The reason for being contacted varied: one person had seen what I was working with and asked if I wanted to be part of a project one student asked about a thesis work people have contacted me because they have searched for something on my home page and not found it one person had seen what I was working with and asked for some advice. This shows that, at least when contacted by unknown persons, the reason for being contacted can be about any information that one has included on the home page. 4 Conclusion The idea of a knowledge net is to support the social networks for sharing knowledge within an organization. A knowledge net consists of a collection of references to who-knows-what. These references are based on information about peoples competences within different areas. This study shows that information about peoples competences, to some extent, can be found on personal home pages. Therefore, these pages can be of use in, or even seen as a simple version of, a knowledge net. The most common type of information included on the personal home pages was contact information, information about projects and interest areas. Also, most respondents had a picture of themselves on their page. This type of information is of interest for a knowledge net. The contact information for how to find the person being referenced, the information about projects and interest areas for what competences the person have, and the picture to see what the person being contacted looks like. However, the information about projects and interest areas are probably, in most cases, not at a sufficiently detailed level. There can be many reasons for this, e.g., the more information you include the more effort it takes to keep it up-to-date, and the information can be reached by too many unknown persons. One way to get more detailed information on the personal home pages could be to automatically generate an official part, with, for example, contact information, a list of publications, and links to descriptions of projects that the person is involved in. 8

11 A personal home page that seem to be well suited for use in a knowledge net should contain contact information, information about projects the person is involved in (both present and past and at a reasonable level of detail), information about interests within work, publications and other documents of interest, educational background, and maybe a picture. The findings also show that the Web is a medium that attracts peoples interest for presenting information. Reasons for this can be many, e.g., the global nature of the Web a nice layout is easily created it is there for those who are interested in finding it it is not intrusive anything written is easily available and distributed not only to other persons but also to oneself. People change and improve their home page which indicates that the information is relevant and up-to-date. The reasons for changing a page was that the information became outdated and that the Web had been further explored. In a knowledge net the information also changes, people learn and forget, make new contacts etc, and needs to be updated. Therefore, these findings are of interest in regard to a knowledge net, although this interest for keeping the home page up-to-date must be further explored. The layout of the home page is also important to many people. Maybe the possibility to give the presentation of a reference in a knowledge net a personal touch can increase the use. People find the information on other persons home pages interesting and of use. However, the type of information that was of interest differed somewhat among the three groups. Still, this indicates that people would find a knowledge net useful. Also, that people are being contacted, by unknown persons, regarding information on their home page indicates that a knowledge net can be of use. 5 Acknowledgment I would like to thank Prof. Kerstin Severinson Eklundh, who suggested this study, and Prof. John Bowers for useful suggestions and comments, and also the two anonymous reviewers for useful comments. I would also like to thank all those persons that agreed to be interviewed for this study. References Ackerman, M. S. and Malone, T. (1990). Answer Garden: A Tool for Growing Organizational Memory. In Proceedings of ACM Conference on Office Information Systems. Cambridge, MA, USA, ACM Press. Conklin, J. and Begeman, M. L. (1988). gibis: A Hypertext Tool for Exploratory Policy Discussion. In Proceedings of CSCW 88. Portland, OR, USA, ACM Press. Erickson, T. (1996). The World-Wide Web as Social Hypertext. Communications of the ACM, vol. 39(1): Fischer, G., Grudin, J., Lemke, R., McCall, R., Ostwald, J., Reeves, B., and Shipman, F. (1992). Supporting Indirect Collaborative Design With Integrated Knowledge-Based Design Environments. Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 7:

12 Groth, K. (1997). The Use of Knowledge Nets for Collaboration within Organizations: a Theoretical Background. Technical Report IPLab-127, TRITA-NA-P9703, Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden. Grudin, J. and Palen, L. (1995). Why Groupware Succeeds: Discretion or Mandate? In Proceedings of ECSCW 95. Stockholm, Sweden, Kluwer Academic Publishers. Kraut, R. E. and Streeter, L. A. (1995). Coordination in Software Development. Communications of the ACM, vol. 38(3): Marmolin, H. (1991). TheKnowledgeNet. In Proceedings of the 2nd MultiG Workshop. Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden. Nielsen, J. (1996). Relationships on the Web. (visited 12th of September, 1996). Tauscher, L. and Greenberg, S. (1997). How People Revisit Web Pages: Empirical Findings and Implications for the Design of History Systems. Int. J. Human-Computer Studies, vol 47: Tollmar, K. and Sundblad, Y. (1995). The Design and Building of the Graphic User Interface for the Collaborative Desktop. Computers and Graphics, vol. 19(2): Waterson, P. E., Clegg, C. W., and Axtell, C. M. (1997). The dynamics of work organization, knowledge and technology during software development. Int. J. Human-Computer Studies, vol. 46:

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