Tuesday, December 8, 2009

User engagement

At the user engagement session yesterday, there were three interesting talks. Perhaps not the most Gridy of sessions, but users are the same whether they are using the Grid or not. My main interests within computer science is human-computer interaction; that's the aspect I was most looking for.

The first talk was from Simon Coles about getting chemists to use an electronic system for lab books. An interesting point, that I didn't quite appreciate at the time, is that this is arising as part of a process of getting instruments on the web. This particular group was primarily physical chemists, so heavy on the instrument use - and using a blog to pull together the information with a few thoughts seemed to flow quite naturally. Making this available, either within the group, or publicly, is a bit of a cultural shift, but, as with Simon, I think that there is a lot of value in that.

The second talk was from Stephen Wilson on Second Life. Using Second Life for outreach is an increasingly common theme; and this was one of the better examples I've seen. Using the 3-D nature to show the chemical structures is something that fits naturally, rather than many uses that show fundamentally 2-D information. The interactive elements are also quite clever - using a random generator for potential molecules, and showing the results of a simulation of that molecule (in this case, as a potential anti-malaria drug). However, I've always had my reservations about Second Life - in terms of the TeenGrid which limits outreach to those of school age, and the number of users is difficult to quantify. Still, one of the better examples I've seen.

The final talk was from Andrew Price was about building a user interface to GENIE, an earth science modeling packages. From what he described, GENIE is a classic piece of research-ware. That's essentially 'software that's not finished', not from lack of effort, but more because if it was finished, it wouldn't be research! As it stands, it needs good computing skills to get working, isn't particularly user friendly (but is powerful). Andrew described how they went about built a GUI able to run GENIE, with a way of inputing control to it in a much more user friendly manner. The idea being to let people be aware of the facilities, and then if they need to do more complex things that the GUI allows for, having a path for them. This was an OMII Engage project, and I thought it looked really good. It's domain specific, but the techniques of building the GUI over the existing code to make it more available is a solid plan, and one that would be good to see more of.

Three talks, looking at user engagement from three different perspectives - I'm looking forward to the next session on that today.

No comments: