Course:Libr559A/Aberg, J., & Shahmehri, N. (2001, March)

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Aberg, J., & Shahmehri, N. (2001, March). An empirical study of human Web assistants: Implications for user support in Web information systems. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 404-411). ACM.

Purpose of article

In this article, the authors conducted a field study on the effectiveness (attitude and efficiency) of integrating human assistance into web information systems. Based on the data collected from two questionnaire surveys, the authors summarized some recommendations and design guidelines for decision makers and developers of web systems.

Main Argument(s) and supporting evidence

The authors claimed that the integration of human assistance helped to reinforce the usability of the web system, and their view was supported by the data collected from the two questionnaire surveys.


To evaluate user attitude, the authors used trust, fun-factor, and atmosphere as the main evaluation factors; while they considered ease of use, quality of support, users' view of human support, user’s usage purpose and the general system feasibility as important evaluation factors of system efficiency. They found out that most users had a positive response to the human support system, as they trusted the web assistance, and found their help useful. They also found out that users came from different background, thus the assistants didn't have to be native English speakers; in addition, being an assistant need to be patient and knowledgeable, and the multi-task environment can issue some stress.


Generally speaking, this article focused on the relationship between web system designing and human assistance/support, and tried to figure out a way to achieve university usability for web information systems. Specifically, in this article, user support was defined as "online support for the user tasks that the web information system is intended for". In addition, they emphasized that web information system served people with various backgrounds and with various needs. In their study, they also used the model that described how users using the web information system and when and how were they asking for human support.

Theoretical Framework

This article followed the SCOT framework since it not only put user needs and usabilities at the first place in designing and system evaluation, but also grouped users based on their backgrounds- technologies are going to be adjusted and revised based on how users access and assess the technologies.

Novel ideas

This article provided some novel and interesting ideas: on the other hand, this article also thought from the human support’s perspective, and discussed what makes a good user support, and also explored if it’s necessary to provide multi-media channels for communication.


However, there are some problems as well: although this article was trying to find recommendations and solutions for universal usability design, it ignored the big issue of different accessibility levels. According to its survey results, users were satisfied with only having the text-chat function while asking an online assistant for help. However, I think this recommendation actually limit the usability of the system, at lease makes it less convenient for some people who has difficulty in reading, typing, etc.

Potential Contribution

Potentially, the findings of the positive effectiveness of having online support could inspire some libraries in system development: should they provide online reference services. In BC, some academic libraries are holding a program called AskAway, where patrons can connect to an online librarian for help. So is it a good idea to introduce this model to public libraries? In this article, the authors talked about comparing the benefit and cost of having online support before adding human support service to online systems-- so it would be a discussion for the future library communities. Page Author: Wendy Zhang