Nov 20 2006

Online sclera: bringing the whites of their eyes ever closer

Published by at 6:39 pm under Communities of practice,Technology

In his article about “How to use del.icio.us to foster collaboration” Shawn Callahan talks about social bookmarking as a way to distribute work across a team, community or network. I do notice myself using the bookmarks that people in my community store in del.icio.us as he describes (in the sense of copying their bookmarks, referring to them later, using the content in some way). But I think that a more common use for me is just to notice what people are thinking about and noticing as they surf and bookmark.

A recent article titled “Eyeing up the collaboration” from the November 2nd, 2006 issue of The Economist remarks that “being able to identify what someone else is looking at is thought to have been so important to humans that people evolved to have eyes surrounded by brilliant whites to assist with the process.” Humans are different from other species, which tend to have sclera (the “whites” around our irises) that are not white.

So, fast forward a few million years, and we are evolving ways of being aware of what others are looking at — noticing in which direction someone else is gazing. Presence indicators on Skype or Instant Messengers give us information that’s useful in related ways. When I was at the CIRN conference in Italy a month ago, my wife would “see me online” and wave immediately, since we’re not used to a 9-hour time difference. It seems to me that del.icio.us provides an equivalent resource: it allows us to follow someone else’s gaze.

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