158.729 Assignment 3.

Evaluate and Compare Socio-technical systems

Aim: Working in groups of three or less, compare and analyze three socio-technical systems of a similar genre and recommend one.


Scenario: You are part of an organization that wishes to adopt a new (for them) socio-technical product, and has to choose between available options, e.g. Massey University could want to compare three online learning systems like WebCT, WebBoard or Moodle. As this will involve a business investment of both of money and time, it is important to get it right. It is your job to recommend a system, with reasons.

Choose a genre from the following (each group must be different):

  1. Social media, e.g. UTube
  2. Wikis
  3. Social networks, e.g. Facebook
  4. Twitters
  5. Social bookmarks, e.g. Digg
  6. E-markets
  7. Blogs
  8. Bulletin and question boards
  9. Chat
  10. Twitter
  11. Reputation systems
  12. FLOSS (Free, Libre, Open Source Software) sites, e.g. SourceForge, FreshMeat
  13. Commenting systems, Slashdot
  14. Any other you care to define (check with me)


Details: The report should follow this layout:

1.     Title and Introduction (10%). Name your STS genre in the title. Give history and background of the genre. How did it begin?

2.     Purpose. What is its main purpose or aim? What is it trying to do? Who are the stakeholders? Break aim down by different stakeholders. (10%)

3.     Definition. Give a one sentence genre definition and explain or clarify as needed. It must not be circular, e.g. email systems exchange emails. Nor so general as to be meaningless, e.g. this genre exchanges information. Specify what STSs are in and out of the genre, i.e. what is excluded.

4.     Description. Describe why this socio-technical genre is used:

a.      Personal. What personal tasks do people use this type of system for? How does the technology support personal requirements? List them, with a one sentence description. (10%)

b.     Community. Describe the sort of social community that forms around this STS, e.g. its “identity”, rules, norms or written constitution, any logo or symbol? What does the community expect of its members? How does the technology support these community requirements? List them, with a one sentence description.  (10%)

5.     Compare three STSs. Provide a long list (~10) of examples of the genre, in each case giving name, link, and home page screen shot. From this list, select a short list of three with different approaches to compare and contrast:

a.        Technical functions (15%. Use the system's menus or toolbars to compare a categorized list of the main technical functions, e.g. email Send, Address book, etc. Reference other published reviews you use.

b.       Personal requirements (tasks) (20%). In priority order, list the important personal tasks people want the technology to do, e.g. email lets people Communicate, while the Send function just transmits information.

c.        Social requirements (rights) (20%). In priority order, list the social rights the technology should allow, e.g. for email, the right to not be forced to communicate (spam).  

6.     Socio-technical analysis (25%) 

1.     For each personal requirement, list the technical functions that support it, e.g.  the Communicate task might use an email address book function, reply button, auto-completion, spell-check, etc. To organize my conversations I can use the Thread function, or the New Folder function to file past conversations. Based on the task priority, the support for each task and ease of use, which STS is better? Summarize this analysis in a table.

2.     For each social requirement, list the technical functions that support it, e.g. to reduce spam, email offers the Filter function. To increase fairness, email tries to ensure that each message has a sender (but that can be spoofed). To increase transparency, any email failure generates a report. Based on the rights priority, the supporting each right and the citizen cost, which STS is better? Summarize this analysis in a table.

3.     Note the socio-technical gaps (between what people or communities want and what the technology does) and the socio-technical gains (where technology makes what people or communities want easier), e.g. email is easier than mailing a letter (gain) but spam is an email social problem (gap). Another gain is easy addressing and another problem is email flaming.

4.     By the above, compare the systems based on technical functions, support for personal tasks and on support for community needs. Consider requirements like making friends, sharing experiences, trading, belonging to a group, having status, self-expression, helping others, keeping privacy, politeness, learning, etc. Rate the systems according to their socio-technical performance not just their technical performance.

2.     Conclusions. Provide a table summarizing the main conclusions, and based on this, recommend one of them, with reasons, based upon your analysis.

3.     Recommendations (do, individually, with your name attached) (15%).  Give suggestions for designers, how each system could be improved, again with reasons (to be sent to the design company).



1.     Satisfies stated requirements (up to -10%). Final report is well written: no spelling or grammar errors, logical argument, easy to understand, has page numbers, has at least five credible supporting references (academic sources, not web links).

2.     Summarize and present in class. Present your socio-technical analysis in class, giving time for questions. Print a copy of your slides, 6/page, for the instructor.

3.     Submit a printed report at the beginning of the due class..

4.     Send report and slides as an email attachment to bwhitworth@acm.org WITH 729 ASG4 IN THE TITLE.


Note: socio-technical systems combine social and technical features, so combine social and technical concepts in your argument. Don’t just look at the technical functions. You cannot use the email example.