Resistance is Futile

We are the Borg. Resistance as you know it is over. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.

– The Borg

At work my employee computer ID is QA4268.  If someone logs into our CMS and wants to search for something that I have created, they can’t use my name, they have to know that QA4268 is me–or that I’m QA4268.  Hmmm . . . now that I think about it, that is a teeny bit disturbing, which brings me to the article, Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations, by Steven Katz and Vicki Rhodes.  In it they state, “Have you ever noticed how some systems or procedures at work–say, a time tracking system, registration process, or evaluation procedure–are more adapted to themselves, more focused on their own efficiency and operation, than on the human being who is the ostensible object or user?” (p. 235)

They even follow this quote up with a specific mention to most CMSs and how they are often guilty of this–the one where I work is no exception.  The software has all the technical capability that we require and is capable of fully delivering on everything we ask of it, but in many ways it ignores the requirements and limitations of the people that need to use it.  For example, almost all the information about how information is related to each other is presented in lists or tabular reports.  While this does provide all the detail, people are visual beings that work best when they can visualize relationships.  The CMS asks us to bend people to the machine rather than bending the machine to the people.

The problem, as Katz and Rhodes, describe it is that you can’t separate people and technology when defining processes, procedures and tools.  More and more we are merging with our technology (both literally and figuratively) to become some sort of hybrid.  Katz and Rhodes point to examples like automatic spell-checkers and Bluetooth headsets as examples (p. 240).  The point, as I see it, is that we need to view the relationship between people and technology more holistically.  When we say that we want to implement a CMS, we can’t just select a tool and then throw people at it.  Instead of a CMS we should be implementing a CME (Content Management Ecosystem).  To get the most out of these technical relations, we need to make sure that the technology complements our people and that our human skills fully exploit the capabilities of our technology.

Posted on November 18, 2012, in Creative, Society, Uncategorized, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I am not personally familiar with any one CMS, but have heard multiple classmates in multiple classes surface the topic. (I cannot help but thoroughly agree after your brief, but poignant, explanation of your “name” on the system. Yikes.) Don’t interfaces that are so cumbersome make you wonder if they were developed in a vacuum? (Was there every ANY contact with what their users during development?) And then you wonder why one of them does not redesign to satisfy what seems to be a growing market? Or is it now that they have so much time and code invested that redesigning is company suicide?

  2. “And then you wonder why one of them does not redesign to satisfy what seems to be a growing market? Or is it now that they have so much time and code invested that redesigning is company suicide?”

    I think that you are exactly right about the reasons you don’t see drastic usability changes to existing CMS products. They have so much installed base and legacy code that they are kind of boxed in. Some of their customers have spent a lot of money customizing the tool to fix the rough edges, so even a positive fix/change might be greeted with groans.

    I have tried some of the new entrants into the field and some of them are taking a much more user-first approach. I saw a demo by one company that was trying to implement a visual interface that was a lot like http://www.visualthesaurus.com/. It shows a node for the thing you are looking at in the center (say a topic about bread) and then shows you nodes for all the other things related to that. So, for example, if the topic is bread, it might be connected to nodes for sandwiches, varieties, making of, history, etc. Then the user can quickly see all the connections and maybe see where connections should exist that haven’t been made. Also, it helps the user explore the content to find what they need (or what they didn’t know they need) in a more natural way and makes it easier to remember where a piece of information is based on what it related to.

    The most surprising thing to me is that so many CMS vendors and topic-based writing advocates are mystified as to why so many implementations fail to gain user acceptance and take off. It isn’t that hard to figure out: the tools are all about ‘data’, and we are all about ‘meaning’.

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