Sunday, December 2, 2012

Social media is influencing the way people communicate

Social media has significantly impacted people’s lives in the past decade. According to a research, Americans spend eight hours a month on Facebook. Because of the convenience and efficiency of communicating on social media, nowadays people are spending more time chatting and sharing information on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and many other social networking sites. The conventional face-to-face interact is now gradually replaced by other forms of communication such as sending Instant Messages, following other users on Twitter, and commenting friends’ photos on Facebook. In many ways, social media is influencing people’s communication behaviors both positively and negatively.

Social media has made it easier for people to know and stay in touch with others
Facebook exceeded 1 billion users. 
Photo Credit:
Social media provides a convenient way for people to make new friends. For example, Facebook, a social networking site that creates a well-connected network for people, is now becoming part of our social life. A recent research shows that Facebook reaches one billion users in October, which may indicate that it’s becoming more and more possible to find someone you know on Facebook.

Another advantage of Facebook is that it helps  people discover someone who shares same interest with them by searching key words such as the names of sports, movies and books and then joining in the specific interest group. People would have many opportunities to make friends with others who also pay attention to the group and chat with them regardless how far away they live. Also people would broaden their circle by discovering mutual friends and learning about their basic information by browsing their personal pages.

Social media also helps people to keep in touch with others. Leisa Reichelt, an independent consultant in London creates the term “ambientintimacy”, which describes that through social media, people are “able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.” Sometimes when people can’t meet each other face-to-face, they can still know what’s going on with their friends by reading the statuses they post.

I have my own experience of "ambientintimacy". Many of my friends are now in universities that are far away from mine. Although I can’t meet them every day as it used to be, I can know what is happening to them recently. My friends frequently post their photos on Renren, a popular social network in China. When I browse the website, I see what they did in their school club activities, what's their new haircuts, even what they eat for dinner.

However, social media may also change the way people communicate in a negative way
Although the initial purpose of the creation of social media is to help people keep in touch with each other, it would change the way people communicate negatively if they depend too much on the social media. Recently I had a short interview with Professor Jacquelyn Murdock, instructor of communication 107 class in University of Maryland. She expresses her concern about the barrier social media creates among the younger generation:

Murdock says that younger generation rely on social media too much and they now have problems with face-to-face communication, and that will harm their physical and mental health. According to a BBC news report, Dr Aric Sigman, a biologist, says that the lack of face-to-face interaction could “alter the way genes work, upset immune responses, hormone levels, the function of arteries, and influence mental performance”. He also says that “websites such as Facebook set out to enrich social lives, but end up keeping people apart”. Different from talking directly, typing is more likely to conceal one’s true feeling.

I once read a sad news report about a mother chatted with her daughter who went to college by IM(Instant Messages) every day. The daughter always sent her messages that showed how happy she was in her college, and she frequently used emoticons such as “smiling face”. She never showed any symptoms of depression or sadness. However, her mother would had never imagined that one day her daughter was found suicide in her dorm. This is an extreme example of social media keeping people apart. However the sense of distance is now a common problem among social network users.

 Communication on social media doesn’t equal to the “real” social life

People have to be aware of the fact that that communicating on social networking sites can’t replace the “real” interaction, which is “being together geographically”. There are a lot of differences between communicating face-to-face and communicating by social media. 

Murdock says that one of the biggest difference she found is that people tend to tell more secrets anonymous on social media, contrary to their behaviors in the real life:

Photo Credit:
 Face-to-face communication is based on many important factors. The graphic shows that people express themselves not only by what they say, but also by nonverbal language such as their body gestures, intonations and facial expression. All of these factors compose a “full person”. People also need high concentration during the conversation and then quickly make responses.

However, when sending messages on the internet, people have more time to think about what to say. It was reported that some teenagers who got used to chatting online had difficulty in communicating with others in daily life because they couldn’t respond quickly while they talked to others.

There are always two sides to everything.We live in the internet age, and most of us can't deal with our social lives without social media. Also, the social networking sites won’t disappear overnight. Maybe the best way for us is to find a balance between virtual and real social worlds. Although social media can’t be our lives, it will be a helpful tool for our social activities if we use it efficiently. For example, we can expand our online interactions to face-to-face meetings via in person events such as Tweetup. I believe that we will definitely use the social media more wisely after learning about both of the pros and cons.

Do you think social media is making your social life better or worse? Brianna, a senior student in the University of Maryland shares her own experience:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Final project: Communication and social media

With the development and popularity of the internet, the influence of social media is expanding at a high speed in the past few decades. Because of the convenience and efficiency of the instant messages on social media, people, especially the youth, are depending more on social media such as Facebook and Twitter in their daily life. Obviously social media is changing the way people communicate in many aspects.

People are changing the way they know and keep in contact with each other because of the social media
According to a recent research, Facebook users spend 423 minutes Facebooking each month. Now people are spending more time chatting and sharing information on social media. The benefit of social media such as Facebook is that people can know someone more easily . For example, they can search and discover people sharing same interest by typing key words in the search bar and then add them as friend on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. Also people may find some mutual friends without the introduction by the friends they already know, and they can learn something about those people by browsing their personal pages.

Another benefit of social media is that it helps people keep in touch with others. Sometimes when people can’t meet face to face because of the far distance and the busy schedule, they can still know what’s going on with their friends by reading the statuses they post. Social media is also a good tool for people to remember lots of names in their social circle although some of them only meet once before.

However, depending too much on the social network may have negative effect on people’s communication skills
Face to face communication is based on many important factors. People express themselves not only by what they say, but also by nonverbal languages such as their body gestures, intonations and facial expression. All of these factors compose a full person. However, when people rely too much on social media, they can only know about others by reading what they are typing. People may have some problems understanding what others mean when chatting online because they can’t see that person and they have to guess what he/she is really thinking about.

Also when people communicate face to face, they need highly concentrate in the conversation and quickly make responses. But when sending messages on the internet, people may have more time to think about what to say for response, so that they can do anything they want during the chat. It was reported that some teenagers who got used to chatting online had difficulty in communicating with others in daily life because they couldn’t respond quickly to the ideas while they talked to others.

This is the opinion of an expert on the issue of social media and communication:

"person on street" Audioboo about social media and communication

 The opinion of my roommate about the difference between communicating face to face and communicating by social media.

listen to ‘"person on street" Audioboo about my topic’ on Audioboo

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The preference of having an iPad and blending classes with technology

Friday, November 2, 2012

The usability of iPad apps and websites

About the research
The research is about the usability of iPad apps and websites. According to the report, the main purpose of the research was to access the state of iPad application design and understand where the user interaction pain points are. This is the second study based on the test a year ago. For the new study, the researchers tested 16 users with at least two months’ experience using their iPads, 14 of them were between 21-50 years old and two of them were older than 50.  They systematically tested 26 iPad apps and 6 websites. 

Two different methods are used during the research
The first one was usability testing. Researchers invited the users to do several tasks both using iPad apps and the websites, and then they conducted short interview related to the iPad using habits and then asked them to show some apps they already installed. I think the usability testing was the main part of the research because researchers got important data such as their using habits and from the users, and their feedbacks were reliable sources which helped researchers find the potential problems in the apps designs. The second one was expert reviews, which is the observations and recommendations from conducting the researchers’ own review of additional interfaces. This gave the researchers more direct views and meanwhile increases the credibility of the report.

The problem of the target size
In the report, different kinds of problems were found when users were using the iPad, and the issue drew my attention most was the target size in the section of touch screen and affordances. I believe this is one of the most common problems that almost everyone ever used an iPad may have confronted before. I also had such experience as the “fat finger” problem when I use some of the iPad apps. For instance, when I got an iPad last year I was first excited to discover the “piano” app in the app store so I downloaded it immediately. But after I started the app and tried to play a piano music by tapping the keys on the iPad screen, I found they were too small for me to tap them correctly. The sounds were easy to be mixed when I touched the edge of the keys. Even though the size of the keys could be changed, the scrolling button was also too small. So the target size is really an important factor of iPad apps which ensures the users to hit the desired targets efficiently and accurately.

The report also showed an example from USA Today, which contains several tiny targets
During the research, the participants, who were familiar with the app, tried very hard to press the small arrows in order to get to the next article while they ignored the alternative option, which was swiping the page. They found several problems of the design of the app page: the “home” button was too small and was easy to miss, and the arrow button was also too tiny for users to move to the next article, besides there was no clue about what the next article was about near the arrow, which maybe confuse the readers.  These problems may decrease the efficiency of the users so they have to do more works while reading the news. I believe that a good app have to bring convenience to the users and make their life simpler, thus explicit targets are crucial to a successful app. 

The examples in the reports show the importance of user-friendly targets
The Fitts’ Law from Human-Computer interaction (HCI) says that the time to reach the target is longer if the target is smaller. It is essential for app designers and publishers to know what kind of the target is most user-friendly. Sometime just making the app pages look pretty is not enough. The home screen of NASA app showed in the report, which was the beautiful image of the solar system, was really fascinating at the first glance. However it also had the problem of too tiny targets because some of the celestial bodies that were designed as the targets, such as Pluto, were too small to be tapped by human fingers. Users won’t be satisfied if the beautiful targets can’t be pressed easily. A good design of app targets will safe much of the users’ time and work. According to the report, research has shown that the best target size for widgets is 1cm x 1cm for touch devices, which means that many targets in the apps have to be replaced by more reasonable ones. 

Companies should do more researches about the touch screen and affordance before they design apps for their brands
There are many other factors that would strongly influence the quality of an app, such as crowing targets, padding, affordances, as well as input and registration. The companies should aware that compared to the websites, their apps have to bring more convenience to the customers. If they can solve the problems such as the complicated registration and the size of the targets, they will make more successful apps for their brands and attract more users. So how to improve the apps is always an important question for the companies to think about.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The trend of participation gap

Nowadays people are putting more emphasis on the use of mobile devices. With the development of technology and economy, various kinds of mobile devices are giving us a lot more opportunity to communicate with others as well as access the internet. In the field of education, most of the universities and colleges have introduced the high tech devices, such as iPads, into the lectures. However, not everyone has the equal ability to access the mobile devices. The different level of the economic capability and the education background has led to the differentiation and stratification of the way people use mobile devices.

Digital divide or participation gap?
According to the article written in 2007 by Kevin Guidry at Indiana University, digital divide and participation gap are two problems existing among mobile users in America society.
Kevin Guidry states that the digital divide still exists due to the fact that there are still a large number of Americans who can’t afford the computers or have internet access at home. Meanwhile, even people have had access to technology, the different experience with it may lead to the “participant gap” (Jenkins, 2006), which is not just mere access, but differing types of access.

I believe that the “participant gap” can better describe the problem among US mobile users, because in the society where almost everyone can have an access to the mobile devices in the public areas such the school libraries, the phenomenon of digital divide will no longer be a major problem in the near future. Now the issue is not just simply “have” or “not have”, but it comes more complicated to “how people use them”. The different experience of using the internet and the role mobile devices play in their daily life has strong influence to their attitude towards the technology. For example, people who have smart phones check their Facebooks and E-mails more frequently than people who use traditional phones or don't have one at all.
Mobile phone problems won't have much effect on the participation gap
Another article I read is about the mobile phone problems. According to the authors, Jan Lauren Boyles and Lee Rainie, the main problems phone users confront are dropped calls, unwanted sales or marketing calls, unwanted spam or text messages, and the slow download speed. In my opinion, the mobile phone problems won't have direct effect on participation gap because the problems of the mobile phones always exist, and they are just part of the experience while using the mobile devices for people who already have one. People's understanding of the technology won't be changed and their time of accessing the internet won't be signally diminished just because they confront these problems while using their phones. Also it's obvious that mobile phone problems won't affect those who don't have mobile devices.

However, some findings in the survey may predict that problem of participation gaps may be eased in the future.
The surveys in the article of show that the number of times people encounter the mobile phone problems is related to the type of phone they use and the race of the users. According to the graphic and the survey, Hispanic and African-Americans are more likely to have mobile phone problems than Whites, and maybe it’s tied to the fact that African-Americans and Hispanics rely on their cell phones more than the whites. Although there are still many Hispanic and African -Americans who can’t afford cell phones, it seems that they will rely on using cell phones to access the internet and make phone calls more than the white users if they have one.

Since the cell phone companies are launching new products all the time, the price of old smart phones usually reduce after the newest ones come out because of the severe competition won't allow them to keep high prices. And the phone price will continue decreasing in the future because of the maturity of manufacturing,  Once more people, especially those who may depend on mobile devices a lot but can't afford them temporarily, can have their own smart phone, the problem of participation gap may be diminished because the opportunity for people to access the mobile devices will be equal so that they will have similar experience of accessing the internet and using the high tech devices.