Thursday, May 2, 2013

2013 Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication is more accessible

Cross-Cultural Technology Design Book Cover
The 2013 Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication by NCTE is more accessible now, :). Oxford University Press recently lowered the hardcover price of Cross-Cultural Technology Design: Creating Culture-Sensitive Technology for Local Users to $39.95 after hearing the feedback about book price at the Annual Conference of College Composition and Communication. I'm grateful to work with a book publisher who listens!

The book of 352 pages explores how to create culture-sensitive technology for local users in an increasingly globalized world with rising participatory culture. Please feel free to write to me if you have any thoughts about this book. If you adopt it as textbook, I will be happy to chat with your students as a guest speaker via conferencing technology.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Facebook Japan: Singular Social-Networking and Postcolonial Computing

2012 is a critical year for Facebook (Japan) as it will decide whether Facebook can take this market, or put it in this way, whether a US-based SNS website could change and re-define the way Japanese users are conducting online social networking. The current sign seems encouraging to Mark Zuckerberg: A few days ago,  the Facebook CEO announced in his meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister that Facebook users in Japan have surpassed 10 million and the number of users has doubled over the past six months (BusinessWeek), with a penetration rate of 10%.

Compared to the sweeping success of Twitter in Japan, Facebook Japan came a long way. Its penetration rate had been stagnating at 3% for a long time, even after a Facebook office was opened in Tokyo in September 2010. In stark contrast, its reach rate in its home country was 62% at that time.  Since then Facebook has developed a number of initiatives to actively reach Japanese users such as designing customized mobile interface, allowing users to syndicate Facebook posts on Mixi (an indigenous SNS website that is most popular among Japanese Internet users), and introducing a job search application for college students. While Facebook has done more localization efforts for Japanese users than they did for users from other parts of the world, many Japanese Internet users still stay away from Facebook. Why? As I discuss in my book, Facebook asks its users to use real names and photos for profiles. This distinctive feature, which made Facebook a huge success in American culture where it originated, conflicts with Japanese Internet culture, where users like to use pseudonyms to interact with each other. Over 75% of Japanese social media users chose to do it this way around the time of 2009, which is supported by the top Japanese SNS website Mixi.

Technology has its own value; in this case, the core value Facebook promotes for online social networking is using real identity for online social networking—more accurately, an American way of social networking. This core value makes them succeed in their home country as a winning feature. Therefore, Facebook doesn’t want to change it in the context of Japanese Internet culture, and instead they worked very hard to let Japanese users get used to this way of social networking. It even went to such an extreme one year ago that they asked some of their registered users to provide their IDs because they were concerned the names of those users were fake ones as they didn’t look like common Japanese names. One of those users whose accounts were suspended later claimed he was a Japanese-Russian, and that was why his name looked different (Asiajin).

The case of Facebook Japan is a typical example that static meanings out of context are transferred through cross-cultural design. Here, the static meaning is complicated with the ideology at the time of postcolonial computing (Irani, Vertesi, Dourish, Philip, & Grinter). When I spoke about this case at the recent ATTW conference as the example of postcolonial computing, one scholar from India noted that Orkut, which was very popular in India before Facebook came, now was “wiped out” by Facebook. This is not surprising, since Brazil, another country where Orkut was widely used, has been observed as a fast-growing market for Facebook. As Facebook has rapidly risen as the top SNS website in the world, many local SNS websites were kicked out of the game (To see the change about the world map of social networks between June 2009 and December 2011, please check out the animation of the second picture on Vinco’s blog).

The scholar commented that as sophisticated Internet users, Japanese users have a lot of advantages in protecting their online culture in SNS competition between a foreign website and local sites, and more attention should be given to those Internet users who are at a more disadvantageous position such as Indian users. I agree with her about the importance of designing for “the bottom of the pyramid;” however, I believe this Japanese case serves as a more disturbing example to show the asymmetrical diffusion of technological culture at this stage of postcolonial computing. Even for a country as wealthy as Japan with well-developed Internet culture, the local online cultural practices are treated in an insensitive way by a global contender: the core feature of the technology is prioritized over local user expectations. In this glocalization age, cultural imperialism is still pervasive. Of course, technology use is a recursive practice, and users would adjust and change their practices in certain structures. For example, more and more Japanese users found social networking with real identities on Facebook improved their business networking, and it looks like this is one of the directions Facebook is going to in Japan.

Will Facebook take the Japanese market? I will not be surprised if it wins this brutal competition in the end. As one of the richest IT companies at present, it is an empire that has the capital to conquer every corner of the world as long as it has the market access (I guess I feel grateful to the Great Firewall of China for this case), not to mention altering and shaping Japanese way of online social networking. However, I know I will feel sad at that moment. This is another McDonald’s in social media. While an American traveler might feel happy to be able to eat a big Mac everywhere in the world, it is the alarming singularity that only one social networking mode is honored in this global village. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Release of iBooks Author & Which E-Reader will Win

The news of iBooks Author got a lot of attention in the past two days. While I don’t like its software license agreement that only allows people to sell their produced books through Apple’s store (see this), I think Apple is making the right direction in competing for the winning position on the e-reader market.

I wrote the following section for my new book back in July 2010 and took it out later as I was concerned it could be dated by the time when the book was released. I argued that in this round of competition, designers and manufacturers for e-readers should consider myriad reading activities and consider culturally diverse users, including college students. If they continue to narrowly define an e-reader as a reading device in terms of instrumental measures, consumers will no doubt choose the most cost-effective one based on primary technical functions and they will have to reduce prices again.

So what will Kindle do next?

"At the time I am writing this (July 2010), there stands a fierce competition among e-readers with the introduction of the iPad. Will a dedicated e-reader like Kindle, Nook, and SONY survive in this competition against multifunctional devices like the iPad? As e-readers quietly reduce their prices, people wonder how affordable those e-readers will end up being. Less than $150 on the American market or maybe offered as a free device to lock customers into purchasing their content? (Note: The price of Kindle 3 was reduced to $139 when released in September 2010; the ad-supported Kindle 4 was priced as $79 and $109 for the non-ad supported one year later. See Wikipedia Entry.) I would offer another approach to predict whether e-readers will win or which e-readers will win in the end. In a technology market with many forerunners, a winning product often makes profound changes in ways people consume the technology. For example, the Nintendo Wii stood out because it altered the previous individual gaming experience into a collaborative one and brought new meanings to this cultural consumption.

To obtain a competitive edge, e-reader designers and manufacturers might want to consider what meaningful experiences they could bring to users with various reading activities. If they continue to narrowly define an e-reader as a reading device in terms of instrumental measures, consumers will no doubt choose the most cost-effective one based on primary technical functions, such as battery life, screen size, high resolution, cross-platform functionality, downloading speed of content, e-book price, and so on. In that case, they might find it more worthwhile to purchase a multifunctional device. Please don’t get me wrong: Technical measures are important to make a product usable. But being usable does not necessarily mean a product will win in this competition, and only a product both usable and meaningful will win.

Therefore, if designers could look at rich user activities associated with reading in situ and make reading practices more meaningful for readers, they will have a lot of opportunities there. Below are some questions to serve as starters to help designers explore design issues:
Think about myriad reading activities and consider culturally diverse users: How do people read different types of books? Are there other ways of reading? Where and when do they read? How do old people who suffer arthritis and weakening vision read? How do young kids read? How do blind people read? How do people who appreciate collaborative experiences read? How do college students read their textbooks? How could people access online content through library websites? How do medical professionals, engineers, or lawyers read lengthy and bulky proprietary documents and manuals? What do people do when reading? What about highlighting, annotating, and other marginalia?
Think about distinctive reading habits in various cultures: How does an e-reader support the reading activity of a Japanese young commuter who loves to read text messaging novels and cartoons on his cell phone? How does an e-reader help a Maori reader to preserve and promote his cultural heritage from a digital library?
Think about the reading experience as cultural consumption: How do readers produce as they read? And what do they want to produce? Is there identity-formation going on? If so, how is this achieved? And what could help to accomplish this goal? How does an e-reader enhance communication among readers? One site of reading as cultural consumption is reading reviews. What else could designers do to foster this cultural consumption in addition to aggregating reading reviews?

If an e-reader only supports narrowly-interpreted reading activity, the winning chance in this competition will be slim."