Benefits of sharing — when public access is the best access

Sharing a computer in a telecenter, cybercafé, or library is the only option for some people — often because they lack the income, skills, or infrastructure at home. But sometimes people prefer sharing computers in public-access venues. The Collaborative Knowledge Sharing Study, part of our series of in-depth studies, examines the reasons why, asking “Do public access facilities afford opportunities for sharing of experience, space, expertise, and technologies so as to enhance outcomes and impacts in ways that could not have been as effectively realized outside of a public access space?” The two-year study (2009–2011) will be led by Michael Best, along with Beth Kolko and François Bar, and supported by Mark Davies in Ghana. Researchers will visit a dozen public access venues in Ghana — large and small, rural and urban, upscale and relatively modest — to identify when sharing enhances or diminishes a user’s experience as compared to individual use (at a public access venue) or private use (at home). Download the full research proposal. The study’s mixed-method approach will include broad survey work (including working with the national surveys), focused ethnographic-inspired research at a few venues, quantitative methods, natural and formal experiments, and ultimately system and space design exercises. It will examine five hypotheses:

  1. End-user co-present space sharing (i.e., people occupy the space together but have their own computers) enhances the outcomes/impacts of computer use in many cases.
  2. End-user co-present technology sharing (i.e., people occupy the space together and also share a single computer) enhances the outcomes/impacts of computer use in many cases.
  3. End-users will share at times equipment even in the presence of abundance in order to satisfy individual interests or social norms.
  4. The architecture, rules, and norms of the public access space influence the ability of people to engage in end-user co-present space sharing. These spaces can be designed to encourage the best sort of sharing.
  5. The code of technologies influences the ability of people to engage in
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    end-user co-present technology sharing. These computer technologies can be designed to encourage the best sort of sharing.

Ultimately, the research team’s goal is to understand end-user sharing in public facilities while innovating upon potential designs, policies, and architectures that support and enhance the best forms of collaborative use. Browse collaborative knowledge-sharing updates »