Design of virtual worlds for accessing information : discovery of user preferences.
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This thesis describes a study carried out with the aim of discovering user preferences as to the design of 3-dimensional virtual worlds for accessing information. No literature was found which dealt with this topic, and it was therefore thought that, rather than ask users to make a selection from arbitrarily-chosen designs, it would be informative to consult the users from the beginning of the design process. To this end, a Grounded Theory methodology was adopted, and users were selected from postgraduate students and staff from Information Management courses at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. Three “rounds” of interviews were conducted. The first round was concerned with finding out what ideas for a world design people would have, the second with testing four worlds derived from the first round, and the third with exploring further ideas that users had, based on their experience of the test worlds. At each stage of the process, emergent theories were constructed, and modified according to subsequent findings. It was established that the factors which influenced this group of users in their preferences for the design of worlds were not structural, as might have been assumed, but instead were related to properties such as familiarity, organisation, assistance, and quality of information and presentation. When the results were examined in the context of developments in the use of virtual environments, it was found that they provide a theoretical underpinning for practices such as the provision of “conventional” library structures in the popular online environment Second Life. This is not a statistical exercise, but it would appear that there are no significant differences based on the criteria of age, gender, or whether a user was staff or student. More thorough studies would be required to determine this absolutely, but for the moment it appears more useful to draw a broad set of conclusions. ii Issues were identified which indicate potentially rewarding areas for further research and design. Specifically, it would be of interest to discover whether the affective responses of these groups are also common to other groups, and to experiment further with worlds designed in the light of the current findings. Further investigation of the small number of cases in which users do not respond to the worlds would also be desirable, to determine whether this response is characteristic of a group of people who will not react positively to any world, or whether these users simply reacted negatively to the examples presented.