Internet as a distributed artifact

Stefano Bussolon

Internet can be seen as a distributed artifact in many distinct ways:

Internet is physically distributed: it consists of thousand of servers located worldwide.

Internet contents are distributed: million of people contributed to create the contents of the world wide web, and million of peoples use the internet.

Internet permits and facilitates computer mediated communication, computer supported collaborative work and cooperative learning (2a).

If “culture is a process that accumulates partial solutions to frequently encountered problems”, internet is a cultural artifact (1b).

People use internet trough software like the browsers; the system composed by the internet, a web site and a web browser can be used as an external representation in Zhang and Norman terms (1a).

Internet as physically distributed

Internet is physically distributed: it consists of thousand of servers located worldwide.

But internet can be seen as a whole by the users; the nature of hypertext allow the user to forget that contents are distributed among sites and produced by different people; the browsing activity is somehow lived as an unitary experience.

Internet and communities of practice (2b)

Hildreth and al. (1998) identify some central features of the communities of practice, that are:

Shared background – experience

Common language

Common purpose



Creation of new knowledge

Not simply social interaction.

In their study they found that internet can help international organization to build communities of practice, with the cited features. Cmc can help to shape common purposes, languages, cultures, and knowledge. Computer mediated cooperative work is a way to distribute cognition and knowledge without the co-location of the actors.

Thanks to internet, a new phenomenon is arising, that is an interesting form of open, auto-organized communities of practice able to collaborate, with common purposes, objectives and tools, to develop very complex projects: the open software and open content projects.

Internet as a cultural artifact (1b)

Every feature of a book, from the table of contents to the index and footnotes has evolved over the centuries … Web documents will undergo a similar evolution and standardization of the way information is organized and made available in electronic form.

(Lynch et al., 1999).

if “culture is a process that accumulates partial solutions to frequently encountered problems”, web usability standards are the formalization of a distributed culture.

A standard ensures that your users can understand the individual interface elements in your design and that they know where to look for what features. (Nielsen, 1999)

Do the same as everybody else: if most big websites do something in a certain way, then follow along since users will expect things to work the same on your site. Remember Jakob's Law of the Web User Experience: users spend most of their time on other sites, so that's where they form their expectations for how the Web works. (Nielsen, 1999)

The browser as an external representation

Links to pages that have not been seen by the user are blue; links to previously seen pages are purple or red. Don't mess with these colours since the ability to understand what links have been followed is one of the few navigational aides that is standard in most web browsers. Consistency is key to teaching users what the link colours mean. (Nielsen, 1996)

When you surf the internet your browser can tell you if you already visited a page. Usually, unvisited links are blue, visited are purple.

This usability heuristic shares two main characteristics:

It is a good example of external cognition. The browser remembers which page the user already visited and which are still unvisited.

Is a good example of a standard: blue and purple links are recognized as the standard colours by any experienced web user.

We will present a couple of experiments that manipulate the two mentioned characteristics, and mainly the propriety of the colour to be informative.