Social Interaction Web Sites and Web Adaptation

Alison Lee, IBM TJ Watson Research Center
19 Skyline Drive, Hawthorne, NY 10532

Prior Work in Social Computing

The Web's affordances for information sharing, computation and social interaction has enabled online communities to abound and flourish. Examples of social interaction spaces that are commonplace on the Web include digital cities [1], community networks [2], weblogs, portals such as eBay and Slashdot, and older technologies based on electronic bulletin board systems, news groups and mailing lists [3, 4]. These examples illustrate two important aspects of the kinds of collaborative technologies that exist. First, such technologies are no longer limited to work contexts but extends to commercial and non-commercial contexts involving large and small groups of non-technical end-users [5, 6]. Hence, a larger user population are using and exploiting Web-based collaboration technologies. Second, while there is much interest in real-time forms of collaboration like instant messaging and video conferencing, large numbers of asynchronous and semi-synchronous forms of collaboration exist. Many of these create persistent traces (e.g., postings, weblogs, reputations) that allow visitors to view and make use of the information.

For the last eight years, I have been involved in a number of R&D projects in the area of computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), social computing, and Web application development, with a focus on creating novel, Web-based applications and systems that productively leverage social relations using technology.

  1. I developed a Web-based version of Xerox Portholes (video-based background awareness application) that took the initial concept beyond the one-of, laboratory installation and into several workplaces for exploration and evaluation. We gained an understanding of the user expectations of such technologies that helped identify the critical properties required for widespread acceptance [7].
  2. I was involved in the exploring the business uses of Web-based collaborative customer care technology consisting of shared voice and data for collaborative browsing and interaction [8].
  3. More recently, I worked on designs of large-scale social environments that support the formation and evolution of online communities and the development of novel, socio-technical components that help foster interactions among strangers and expose important elements of social context to participants (e.g., social browsers). This work culminated in the application of the ideas in the development of two online social interaction spaces: CHIplace and Portkey. For details, see [9].

The broader agenda of this stream of work was identifying the design principles for large-scale social interfaces and the novel, socio-technical tools and applications for such interfaces [10, 11].

Present Work on Accessibility

Presently, I engaged in research in the accessibility area. I am part of an IBM Research group that is developing a browser helper object for IE that enables a wide range of end users with variety of impairments to access Web pages reformatted in a manner most usable by them. These adaptations are done without requiring Web content providers to rewrite their Web pages. Furthermore, the WebAdapt technology enables users to apply transformations in combination to address multiple impairments. We are expanding the types of transformations that can be supported and the technical issues with facilitating Web accessibility for a broader and non-homogeneous user population. The work began with Seniors last year, a user group whose needs are not adequately covered by current accessibility guidelines. This year we are work with users with a variety of developmental disabilities.

The WebAdapt technology can be used on a variety of Web sites including social interaction Web sites like CHIplace and Portkey. This technology enables users with impairments to explore and participate in social interaction sites, a capability not envisioned in the design of these sites.

Combining Collaboration and Accessibility

In moving from work on collaboration to accessibility, I am bringing a combination of expertise and knowledge to work on tools and applications that enable accessible, collaborative interactions. This includes developing end-user technologies for Web accessibility and collaboration and tools that enable developers to create accessible collaborative applications. The initial focus is for the WebAdapt project and involves developing Web page analysis tools that can support transformations such as page linearization (in the absence of Web pages with skip link navigation), that provide Web page overviews, and that assists end users in navigating within a Web page. This work can further enable accessibility impaired users to access information-rich Web sites and social interaction spaces such as weblogs, Ebay, and community-support Web sites.


  1. T. Ishida and K. Isbister (Eds.). Digital Cities: Technologies, Experiences, and Future Perspectives. Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer, Berlin, 2000.
  2. D. Schuler. HCI Meets the "Real World": Designing Technologies for Civic Use. In J.M. Carroll (ed.), Human-Computer Interaction in the New Millennium, Addison-Wesley, New York, pp. 627-646, 2001.
  3. H. Rheingold. The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. pp. 1-16, 1993.
  4. T.L. Roberts. Are Newsgroups Virtual Communities? In Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI’98 Conference Proceedings, ACM, New York, pp. 360-367, 1998.
  5. A. Armstrong and J. Hagel III, The Real Value of On-line Communities. Harvard Business Review, May-June, pp. 134-141, 1996.
  6. S.U. Kelly, C. Sung, and S. Farnham. Designing for Improved Social Responsibility, User Participation, and Content in On-Line Communities. In Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2002 Conference Proceedings, ACM, New York, pp. 391 - 398, 2000.
  7. A. Lee and A. Girgensohn. Design, Experiences and User Preferences for a Web-Based Awareness Tool. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 56(1), Academic Press:London, pp. 75-107, 2002.
  8. C.G. Wolf, A. Lee, M. Touma, and S. Daijavad. A Case Study in the Development of Collaborative Customer Care: Concept and Solution. In Proceedings of INTERACT'99: IFIP TC.13 International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, IOS Press, pp. 54-61, 1999.
  9. A. Girgensohn and A. Lee. Making Web Sites be Places for Social Interaction. In Proceedings of ACM 2002 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, pp. 136-145, 2002.
  10. A. Lee, C. Danis, T.Miller and Y. Jung. Fostering Social Interaction in Online Spaces. In Human-Computer Interaction (INTERACT'01) — Eighth IFIP TC.13 Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, M. Hirose (ed.), IOS Press:Amsterdam, pp. 59-66, 2001.
  11. Y. Jung and A. Lee. Design of a Social Interaction Environment for Electronic Marketplaces. In Proceedings of DIS'2000 - Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods, Techniques, ACM, pp. 129-136, 2000.

© 2003 Alison Lee