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Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability

Author: Jenny Preece
Publisher: New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000
Review Published: June 2001

 REVIEW 1: Boyd Davis
 REVIEW 2: Chris Halaska

Response from Jenny Preece to the review by Boyd H. Davis:

Thank you very much for your detailed and carefully crafted review, which eloquently explains what I want to achieve with my book. You're right that I am calling students, researchers, and professional developers to focus on sociability to complement our current understanding of usability. Communities gradually evolve and change over time as people get to know each other, establishing policies and norms. Online communities are not products so it isn't enough to develop software and just put it outthere. Unless social interaction is nurtured and attention is paid to building online communities, they will flounder and die.

The understanding conveyed in Boyd's analysis of my book from her linguist's perspective helps to amplify my message. Thanks!

Response from Jenny Preece to the review by Chris Halaska:

Thanks Chris for taking the time to review my book, for pointing out its strengths and suggesting improvements for the next edition.

No one sets out to develop online ghost towns, yet there are thousands of them, so why are they there? My goal in writing this book is to help online community developers (i.e., students and professionals) and participants make communities more successful. I want to extend the concept of usability to show that sociability -- the way people interact socially -- can be operationalized to speak to developers and participants. Doing this involves distilling the richness and complexity of human social behavior into concepts, skills and methods that inform software design and support community development.

I understand Chris' desire that I should go more deeply into some topics but I wanted to lay the foundations for community-centered development. I also know that some readers would like more discussion about the political and economic impact of the Internet. For example, Chris mentions its homogenizing effect on minority cultures and potential to destroy national identity -- a trend started by Coca-Cola, the film industry and TV. These are complex and serious concerns in which on-lookers see dangers and loss while those involved often hanker for more and more technology. A book is needed to do justice to this topic.

It is always difficult to know what to put in and what to leave out of a book, especially when attempting to bring together knowledge from different fields in a new multi-disciplinary area. That's why I included an extensive reference list and annotated suggested further readings, which highlight seminal work, state of the art research and even some of our own work, such as that on lurking behavior. A first edition of any text is like a prototype and the second edition will benefit from feedback provided by the schools that are adopting it. I won't be able to please everyone, but one thing I promise -- the typography will be better. However, I hope you at least like the beautiful chapter openers by artist Marc Kostabi, which are in color on the website at www.ifsm.umbc.edu/onlinecommunities.

If anyone else has comments please send them to preece@umbc.edu. I'll be pleased to chat!

Jennifer Preece

Jenny Preece


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