Understanding & Rethinking Shared Access: How People Collaborate & Share Knowledge & Technologies in Ghanaian Cybercafés
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In many low-income countries, where computer ownership and home and business internet access is rare, public access venues, especially in the form of business-operated cybercafés, are how most people access computers and the internet. This form of public access is often viewed as having been born of economic necessity and considered to be a second-best alternative when compared to private, individualized access. In this study, we interrogate this assumption, finding that public access can support forms of collaboration and knowledge sharing that enhance learning and productivity and offer rich opportunities for interaction and co-work. In this way, public shared access is not necessarily second-best to private, individualized connection, but may, in some contexts, be a preferred access method. In order to better understand the forms of collaborative co-present sharing in cybercafés, as well as the advantages and disadvantages associated with this sharing, we conducted a survey of users in two cybercafés in Accra, Ghana. Survey results reveal that public access enables forms of sharing and collaboration among patrons that range from the most simplistic (such as asking a café employee a quick question), to the more formalized (such as meeting business partners and working together around a single computer), to the fleeting and voyeuristic (such as glancing at a stranger’s computer screen and noticing an interesting website). Contrary to the belief that resource constraints drive public shared access, the participants surveyed who do share computers highlighted the learning benefits of working together much more frequently than the economic grounds for sharing. Following these surveys, we designed a system to promote opportunities for co-located sharing and collaboration between users at an internet café.
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