HCI, GIS and the Community

The user-centered design proposed by Haklay and Tobon (2003) is very close to my own topic of critical GIS in that both topics recognize humans are an important factor in how GIS will be used and valued. Thus, historical, cultural and social aspects play a crucial part in the adoption and success of GIS. I especially appreciate how the article highlighted the fact that the improvement of GIS requires an “iterative process” between the tool and users (society). To maximize the practical usefulness of GIS, researchers must keep in mind that a “good” computer program cannot be judged solely on the number or the complexity of the application but rather on how “usable, safe, and functional” (579) the application is to users.


It makes logical sense that HCI research picked up momentum in the 1980s when personal computers became more affordable. However, I wonder what are differences between humans-computer interaction and human-computer interaction. Or in other words, between how groups interact with technology and how individuals do. Perhaps, decisions that involve a group of people (often in PPGIS), users may tend to listen to the one person with the most “expertise” and disregard their own knowledge of the application. The workshops described in the paper involved a user, a facilitator, and a “chauffeur”. I wonder if people would have interacted differently with the application if they were allowed “free-play” on their own after a short demo of the basic tasks.


Furthermore, I think we should carefully consider what tradeoffs are involved between usability and functionality. By making an application more intuitive and easier to use, are we losing important functions that should be included despite its complexity? Ultimately, this judgment depends on the set of tasks intended to be carried out by the application. However, they are not always easy to predict. For the purpose of planning, shortest path analysis may be extremely insightful, although the results may be difficult to intercept given all the assumptions that goes into the analysis. Moreover, uncertainty will definitely be another tricky area to convey. Therefore, one challenge is to figure out which types of tools should be included in a GIS for naïve users so that the system is both not limiting and not overwhelming.


Finally, the article made be think about the potential backlash of some HCI research. For example, I can imagine that disadvantaged communities may not want the results from the workshops to be published due to, perhaps, the misguided belief that making the system easier to use is equivalent to “dumbing it down” and the negative social stigma that follows. Therefore, the decision for including an opting-in or an opting-out option in HCI research is a sensitive one since this option will have dramatic effects on the number of participants. Personally, I favor having the initial settings to automatically include users in the study because although most people probably want to help and improve on a system that they use, the hassle of opting-in is enough to deter most people to becoming participants. However, due to privacy issues mentioned by the author, the application should explicitly warn users of this option before they can start using the application.


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