Today at the opening keynote of the British Computer Society’s HCI 2010 conference, UX pioneer Ben Shneiderman gave an uplifting address about the need to expand the use of technology and social media for civic good.
He gave many examples of existing systems that harness the Internet to help with human problems – such as 911.gov, a conceptual site which would allow US residents to report crimes, but more importantly to request and give assistance to each other. For example, allowing a disabled resident being able to find a volunteer to help them get out of the building in an evacuation. Real-world examples included amberalert.gov and nationofneighbors.net as well as the use of Twitter to track the spread of Californian wildfires. Another example was patientslikeme.com which takes a more open view to the sharing of personal medical data than most current medical institutions, but has shown measurable benefits for the participants.
Ben highlighted the nascent nature of such thinking in the public consciousness, and speculated that greater steps need to be taken to help the public see both what is possible but also to give them the tools to make better use of data for good. To achieve this, he said, we will need deep science research to take place which can then be applied to everyday systems and functions.
As an example, Ben introduced SocialAction, a network analysis tool for researchers which can uncover hidden information in human networks. In the following video you can see the tool being used to uncover the strength of relationships between US Senators who voted the same up to 2007. Read more »