Lessons learnt from helping family members to install and use technologies
Last few weeks I had quite a few experiences with setting up technology (mainly Skype and Flickr) for my family members and helping them to learn how to use it.
Helping your "hardly computer-literate" relatives is a great source of insights: about problems that non-geeks have with tools, about mental models they construct, about good strategies to help learning or ways to solve problems that you mom could have when you are not around.
Which brings me to two thoughts:
First, it would be a great case of teaching about all things "user-related". What if anyone who design or develop tools, especially those intended for a different target group then themselves, should be asked to make sure that their parents use one of their own everyday communication tools. This would require:
- finding which tools would be useful and for that purpose - e.g. now my mom wants to use Flickr to "talk in pictures" with my in-laws since this would solve the problem of talking in different languages
- find a way to install and configure those tools according to the user needs - e.g. I was very surprised while configuring Flickr for my mom and my mother-in-law that both of them were so worried about someone stealing their photos that I had to set it up as "no prints" and "no downloads" for anyone outside of the family.
- find a way to explain how to use the system and to make sure those instructions stick long enough for the system to be used - I'm actually thinking of making a set of screenshots explaning Flirkrc functionalities in Dutch and Russian and sticking those somewhere easy to find.
- find a way to troubleshoot when things go wrong - e.g. I was happy that I registered my own email as an alternative and kept earlier admin emails when my mom lost her Flickr password. Another example includes my brother who was so tired of visiting my parents and sister for admin work that he configured remote access to their desktops.
Those who manage to succeed (measured as consistent use of the tool by parents within half a year), would get "Basic user studies expert" title, lots of insights, fun of seeing their family "geekyfied" and have an extra reason to come visiting if troubleshooting on distance doesn't work or their parents want to learn how to use one more feature.
The second thought is a bit more scientific. I wonder if there is any research on this aspect of relationships between geeks and their family/friends - strategies of supporting someone else's encounters with technologies and lessons learnt from it. Didn't do any proper search, only saw some hints to that as a very side issue in The long term fate of our personal digital belongings (.pdf). This would be such a great source of insights with lots of technology design/technology introduction implications (itching to do some of that myself, but probably should try not to get distracted :)
And a funny side-not observation - I always thought I was much into workplace uses of technologies research, but it seems that my personal experiences get me more into home and family stuff. Interesting...