This second post shares some insights from the planning sessions for E-Mediat project, a networked approach to capacity building for NGOs in Social Media in the Middle East. (For context, read my earlier post)
One of the project tasks is to develop a multilingual online learning community for partners, contributors, sponsors, participants, teams, mentors, social media techies from the region, and trainers to interact and share best practices. Meedan, an implementation partner, is responsible for designing and implementing the online learning community.
Meedan brings to the table a unique Arabic-English translation technology to tackle challenge of a “web siloed by language.” This perhaps allows the learning community to have their knowledge flowing in two directions. One of the key strengths that Meedan brings to this project is its approach to user-centered design. I’ve been involved with too many projects that embrace a platform too quickly without thinking about the end users and they fail. Working with the Meedan and their creative development process was refreshing.
One of the personal highlights of this project was finally meeting Chris Blow in face-to-face. I “met” virtually Chris first through the NpTech Tag in 2007 and he kindly helped me clean up an RSS mess. Chris is the Director of User Experience for Meedan. Meedan’s founder Ed Bice, Meedan’s founder, and Andrea Burton also helped guide us.
Chris lead us through a simple user design process based a book by Giles Colborne. The process encourages stakeholders describe user profiles and what the site needs to meet their needs. Chris, who is a talented designer and visual facilitator, used a variety of techniques to help us brain storm, discuss, and flesh out the user scenarios. Three hours never went so fast.
We identified the need for a strategy to avoid the “cold start problem.” When social web sites are designed to support a community – you need to think through the content and engage strategy because people don’t see the value of a social network unless the social network is there.
Watching Chris model visual facilitation was inspiring. It made me examine my own practice and rekindled a goal to push my own visual facilitation skills. It’s been an interest for a long time and was recently sparked again by David Sibbet’s Visual Meetings Book. Over the holidays, I got a new marker set and sketch pad – watch out.
One thing I discovered was Meedan’s “Transbrowser” that allows you to plug in a URL in one language and translate it to another. It uses machine translation but on the Meedan site there is a cue for human translators. I immediately starting playing around with it ..
“Beth’s Blog” translates into Open House!
But the Meedan site and its transbrowser have a more valuable purpose – it gives us an opportunity to read what is happening in the Middle East from a Middle East perspective. This is especially important given what is happening in right now in Tunisia.
What has been your experience with user-centered design process for online communities and web sites?