As you probably already know, this years slightly confusing (thinking of the Web4All co-located conference) www theme was, yes you’ve guessed it ‘Web For All’:
The Web has had a glorious existence of over two decades and has revolutionized the way we work and live. It has been the catalyst for proliferating information across boundaries, enabling effective communication and 24/7 service availability all leading to a digital, information based economy that we have today. Yet, its direct influence has reached a small percentage of human population. By virtue of being hosted in a growing developing country, bubbling with innovation, this year’s theme aims to highlight the need for expanding the horizons of the Web to become all inclusive and pervasive, reaching out to every human life.
So you will understand my anticipation of a web conference specifically themed with a focus to users. Now it seems to me the organisation did a good job of promoting this inclusive theme across most of the unread or read paper tracks there was yet again no work in the human factors/ web ergonomics domain. As I decried in last year’s trip report from WWW 2010 interaction is dead at the Web conference and this view was yet again supported by the offerings at WWW 2011. It’s easy to be critical so instead let’s discuss the solution.
What is the problem? I think that it is mainly the error of spreading topics across existing tracks and seems to be why we have no human factors work in this years or last years conferences. Everything in one track means ‘like is reviewed with like’; spreading them through tracks means that like is not reviewed with like and probably with less expert reviewers. Indeed, the Human Factors community is notoriously hard when reviewing it’s own work – with a tenancy to `eat its own young’ so mid scoring HF papers will not compare well with more leniently reviewed papers from other domains. I think this means we need a ‘Web Ergonomics’ track which would bring together all the Human Factors work happening on the Web under a broad science and engineering umbrella and would cover:
- Usability, interactivity, and accessibility;
- Adaptation, personalisation, and transcoding;
- Perception, cognition, and behaviour;
- Evolution and emergence – in the context of human factors;
- Browser, user agent, interface, and widget research and design;
- Web ethnography and emergent behaviours;
- Advances in Web technologies when applied to human factors; and
- User specific methods, techniques, protocols, languages, formats, and tools.
In general anything at the intersection of Human Factors and the Web. I see this as an all encompassing Human Factors on the Web track – so everything from ‘simple’ User Agent research to understanding emergent human behaviour on the Web. So we would see it more like WWW+CHI+UIST+UX. The problem with HF is that there are few strong HF/Web research groups explicitly and most work seems to be distributed across research groups who are focused on other things.
The problem is that most groups see CHI as the premier conference, and more likely to accept their work because of the very low HF acceptance at previous Web Conferences – indeed their submission deadline is before the WWW’s and their notification is normally after the WWW submission deadline has closed. Social Sciences and Anthropology do not really submit to WWW as it is more expensive as a conference than they are used too – hence the WebSci conference (and even then when the fees increased after the first conference they lost these submissions). The good news is that this just leaves technical submissions from CS/HF groups looking at the Web – if you like – people who do this work as a primary focus and not as an offshot of other work – making a defacto cohesive community; which (our lab) have called Web Ergonomics to try and foster an inclusive but technically strong community of people focused on this area as their primary research domain.
Just as a point of clarification (because people have told me ergonomics is sociology!) ergonomics isn’t a social science subject – it just means human factors – indeed it is really applied science / engineering and well known as ergonomics in mechanical, civil, aerospace engineering and the like – and is all about understanding technology and conforming it to people:
An ergonomist is an individual whose knowledge and skills concern the analysis of human-system interaction and the design of the system in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.