The Rise of Personal Web Pages at Work
A series of 20 interviews in four organizations explores the ways in which
employees take advantage of personal web pages to support their work and
to reflect who they are. Both interviewee comments and web page examples
suggest the importance of individual personalization of information management
and dissemination, presentation and perception of personality, and usage
from the reader's perspective. These results can inform the development
of future web technologies for use in organizations. Furthermore, this
self representation on web pages is a way of making individual knowledge
more available in the workplace.
This study explores the issues involved in personal representation on web
pages within organizations, and was conducted as a precursor for understanding
how individuals may ultimately use autonomous computer characters for self
representation . Personal interactions are important in a work environment
for establishing trust and for exploiting individual knowledge. We suspect
technologies such as personal web pages can further promote these interpersonal
interactions. Thus, we are interested in the ability of web pages to both
capture and present the personal expressions of their authors in conjunction
with task-oriented information. While there is considerable attention on
electronic representations on the Internet generally [2,3], we are interested
in the use of personal web pages authored and hosted within a work environment,
whether or not these pages are accessible to the Internet at large.
We identified three high-tech product companies and one college, all of
which support personal Web pages for employees. At each institution, we
interviewed five employees who themselves had Web pages. For the three
product companies, we went to each person's office for an informal, open-ended
interview and demonstration of the Web pages. At the college, we had found
the Web pages ourselves and conducted telephone interviews. In all cases,
the employees were asked how they built their Web page and why they chose
the particular format they used, who they thought used their Web page,
and whether or not they used other persons' Web pages. In addition, at
one of the companies we examined another 8 individual Web pages without
talking to the authors directly.
Not surprisingly, of the 28 web pages examined, 21 (75%) contained project-related
information. 14 (50%) contained personal information (hobbies, etc.), 11
(39%) contained photos of the author, and another 5 (18%) contained other
images which served to represent the author in some way.
We found the design of the pages to be most noticeably constrained
by corporate culture, social conventions established in personal web pages
of the author's peers, and the technical competency of the authors. Company
1 clearly sanctions individual Web pages but not so clearly personal information.
An employee for Company 2 said the culture is to be yourself and be creative,
an attitude that shows in the individual Web pages. Company 3 actively
promotes individual Web servers and provides one with each office
workstations but separately provides space for publicly accessible personal
pages. College 1 is pushing the use of the Web not only for teaching and
internal interactions but also for recruiting and external interactions.
Our primary interest, however, was the ways in which personalization
emerged across work settings. In each of these organizational cultures,
people find ways to present themselves and this was evident in the personal
web pages as well. The following sections summarize the most significant
comments from our interviews with the authors.
Personalizing From the Author's Perspective
Most pages are used for project information. As described
earlier, we found that personal web pages were most often use din support
of the employee's project work. The purposes were varied: information dissemination,
project tracking, and information management for the individual him/herself.
Authors appreciated the ability to provide pointers to their work and found
it helpful to organize their own access to project information.
Authors took advantage of the opportunity to personalize.
Authors in each of the four organizations included personal information
and pictures on their pages. One interviewee said he hoped people would
get some sense of him besides his research field; it's a way to draw a
holistic picture of himself. Even images other than photos are clues to
the person. An interviewee who does testing put a graphic of a bug on his
page. Another chose scenes from Alice in Wonderland which he said are "about
the way my life goes."
Some authors felt uncomfortable about revealing personal information.
Several authors are less willing to provide personal information.
One interviewee intentionally wants his page to have a real "in-progress"
look to maintain some "distance between me and it". Another said putting
up personal information is not really his personality. A third couldn't
think of anything interesting to put up about himself.
Authors don't know how their pages are used. The employees
interviewed had only scattered knowledge about who visited their own pages
although they indicated they would like to know. Their efforts to provide
information appear to be motivated to a great extent by their own uses
and their own desires to be known to others.
Personalizing from the Reader's Perspective
Personalization is important. As readers, most of our interviewees
found value in personal information about others whether or not s/he was
willing to provide personal information. One interviewee said when he thinks
of other people's Web pages, it's the personal he thinks of. A second noted
that personalizing the page lets you get to know someone a little better
or you can get an idea of what a persons's like. As one said, she likes
pictures of managers so she can understand their personalities. Another
said he thinks he gets more of a person if he can see the face.
Readers use personal pages because they reflect the authors.
Interviewees told us that they seldom surf and are often pointed
directly to sites they should see. Some know which keep useful information
and go only to those sites. Others say they use the personal Web pages
as an introduction to someone they'll be meeting. Often personal web pages
are used by colleagues for access to other material. An interviewee says
he goes to the personal page of someone on the team to find the link to
the team's page. It's "easier to find that way".
Readers would like pages adapted for their use. Web pages
are used by the individuals themselves, their close colleagues, and peripherally
related teams. It is already becoming increasingly difficult to meet the
needs of all these audiences. An interviewee told us that she thinks customizing
a site would be great; she already dreads pointing a manager to a site
with a lot of information when he just wants to know something specific.
As we suspected, the ability to personalize web pages is important, not
only to authors but to readers as well. However, knowing what personal
information to include, how to commingle personal and task-oriented information,
and which audiences will be reading are issues for everyone. People are
faced with determining how much information to present and how to successively
lead readers further. As one interviewee explained, he wants to share his
data results but considers it a problem knowing how to do it.
Furthermore, it is apparent that there will be a continuing tension
between the degree to which people are able to personalize their pages
and the time and skill required to create and maintain them. Almost all
of our authors told us that designing pages is hard and that maintaining
pages is absolutely too much work. One author likes knowing people can
find out about him and his work but notes that the benefit doesn't come
Regardless of organizational culture, project tasks or difficulties of
implementation, people personalized their work and their presentation of
self in ways that were meaningful both to themselves and to their readers.
Recent findings in computer-supported cooperative work emphasize the individuals
at the core of interactions and communications . Current trends in management
focus on how individual knowledge may be made available and useful to the
entire organization . The emergence of personal web pages at work suggests
that web technologies can play a useful role in the ways in which employees
further their self representation in the organization.
We very much thank everyone who took time to talk to us and show use their
Web pages. We would also like to thank our colleagues Ellen O'Connor, Andreas
Girgensohn, Livia Polanyi, Scott Prevost, Lori Toomey, and Lia Adams for
their support of and contributions to this work.
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