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Social Software & Senior Citizens | 16 comments
[new] An early web-based project for seniors (Avg. Score: 3.00 / Raters: 1) (#9)
by MyronTurner ( on Tue Nov 18th, 2003 at 02:01:59 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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I wrote to Sophia offline about a project I worked on at the Banff Centre, which ran from early 1997 to early 1999. Perhaps others in this discussion group might be interested as well. The project was called "Sea-Changes", and the idea was to create an interactive biography site for visual artists in their late 50's and over. Each artist who signed on would (anonymously) contribute biographical materials, texts and images, to a central database. After the database had become sufficiently populated with materials, each artist-participant would then use those materials--but nothing of his or her own--to create a fictional biography--what I called a "meta-biography". The point was an imaginative sharing of experience to which older people might be open.

It soon became apparent that I would have to lower the age limit, which I did, and that I'd have to widen my net to include people other than visual artists, which I did. There just weren't enough older people open to this kind of project. Eventually about 60 people signed up but only a handful ever contributed to the project.

The contributors' interface was a set of forms: to submit texts, to revise, and to upload images. Uploading images seemed to cause the most difficulty, and I would I would end up in some cases having images sent to me via email so that I could place them on the server. It's been a while but I remember having to do a fair amount of hand-holding. I've never been sure whether the difficulties people had with the formed-based interface was age related or whether the use of forms was not sufficiently commonplace six yers ago. Or whether it was something of both. I often wonder whether such a project would do better today, where people routinely interact with forms. I did get some splendid contributions, but in fact these came from people already familiar with computers--one,for instance, was a Rhizome member, another an artist who had used a web site in one of his projects and who worked with video--i.e. someone accustomed to technical formats.

I supplied step-by-step help files with screen shots. But I know from my own experience that approaching something unfamiliar through help files is not always easy. For instance, someone on this list mentioned Linker. But using Linker's online faqs and help files I found it frustrating trying to figure out what in fact Linker does and how it does it. The what was stated in code: "This software offers you a FREE experimental way of Linking data into a matrix of geography." And until I got a handle on it, the how seemed to me similarly coded.

I believe my own help files for "Sea-Changes" must also have appeared coded to people totally unfamiliar with the language of forms and the web, even though I went to great lengths to be clear and to state things in the language of the layman. I've taught HTML to seniors and the matter of finding a language for my explanations, a set of metaphors, is always extremely important. Of course, the more familiar they are with Windows and browsers the easier it is for me, and I have found that since I first taught this class four years ago, seniors have become increasingly computer- savvy.

The current url for "Sea-Changes" is at: I The "Afterword" I talk about how I wrapped up the project and reasons other than interface as to why the project might have seemed problematic for the contributors.

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Social Software & Senior Citizens | 16 comments


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