by Paula Bach on November 07, 2007 02:22pm

I’ve been on the road..

In September, I went to Limerick, Ireland for the 10th European Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (ECSCW) conference. Computer-supported cooperative work is a sub-sub-discipline of computerscience and a sub-discipline of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). CSCW researchers look at groupware, how people collaborate, and tools that support collaboration. They also do ethnographies to find out how people collaborate. Jonathan Grudin in MSR has researched extensively in CSCW and came up with an early idea called critical mass, which refers to the success of groupware. One of the tenets for groupware to succeed is for it to reach critical mass. This means that many people use the system. If only a few people use the groupware system, after a while, it will fail.

I participated in the doctoral colloquium. This venue is a common event at academic conferences where graduate students get informal feedback about their research from established researchers in the field. I received helpful feedback including advice about characterizing the HCI and OSS communities and finding out what the different members of OSS communities think usability is. The nice thing is that I have this information in the OSS survey data.

I had not been to Ireland before, and have not been in Europe since 1989. Limerick and Ireland in general are experiencing an economic boom, mostly because of the IT industry. Young folks have nice clothes, nice cars, and do lots of drinking. The conference dinner was held at at the Bunratty Castle. It was really nice and full of history.

I had an interesting conversation with Volker Wulf. He has written two books that are interesting for my work, but in the conversation I had with him, I was describing my research to him and he asked me about the tool that I will be designing for CodePlex. I mentioned that the project is sponsored by Microsoft and is a joint effort with CodePlex and MSR. He said, and I quote, “Micosoft doesn’t do open source.” And I emphatically replied, “yes they do!” I talked about CodePlex, Port25 and the open source website.

Now Europe knows.

Last week I was at the Free Open Source Software Symposium in Toronto, Canada. I like visiting the homeland, even though I am from the other side of Canada. The annual symposium is an effort put on by Seneca College School of Computer Studies in the greater Toronto area. The applied program offers courses in open source software development. The courses are in partnership with the Mozilla Foundation. Several Mozilla developers come to the college to talk about open source. Because of this partnership and because of their focus on open technologies, they have established a niche program dedicated to open systems. Bryan Kirschner (of Port25 fame), Mike Beltzner (of Firefox User Experience fame), Bob Young (of Red Hat fame), and many other key players in open source were there. I presented some findings from my open source survey and received good feedback. It was the first timeI had looked at the data in a while and there are some interesting things going on. One is that it appears that most of the people who responded to the survey call themselves usability advocates. It will be interesting to see how advocacy plays out in terms
of usability expertise.

I interviewed Mike Beltzner and a couple of people from the Fluid Project. I got some more names of people to interview and after I get my dissertation proposal written and defend it, I will go full steam ahead with interviewing. I can’t wait. I am in consultation with a couple of statisticians for ways to analyze the survey data from both the Microsoft and OSS surveys. I am working with some other graduate students to look at the role of usability expertise in Microsoft, using the data from the internal studies. This will be interesting to see the difference between the two software development environments with respect to the role of usability expertise.

Well that’s the news from Penn State.