The Future of Research Communications and e-Scholarship

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Usability — a neglected dimension

Name: 2013 Beyond the PDF2

A term strangely missing from the Force11 Manifesto is usability. There is little point in designing new tools or new systems of scholarly communication if they are too difficult to use; unless they are imposed by coercion (see below), they will simply be ignored or abandoned after brief and frustrating use. There will be no community acceptance. The present Manifesto contains no consideration of how the system that it wishes to overthrow evolved, what it is optimized for, and what specific aspects need to be maintained. For example, language (see below) works extremely well for communicating certain kinds of “knowledge objects”, such as argumentation, just as it fails for others, such as datasets. More generally, none of the Manifesto’s argument is actually couched in terms of how people actually communicate knowledge. The Manifesto also contains no consideration of human usability of any of the ideas that it proposes. Many of the proposals look wonderful in theory, but unless they are conceived right from the start in terms of how they could be adopted, transitioned to, and used, then they are non-starters. Or starters that have a too-high risk of subsequent failure. Again, none of the argument is actually couched in terms of how people actually communicate ideas. I will briefly discuss four facets of this issue.

Graeme Hirst


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