Net neighbours: Adapting HCI methods to cross the digital divide

Mark Blythe*, Andrew Monk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


This paper describes the development of Net Neighbours, an online shopping scheme that widens internet access to older people via volunteer telephone intermediaries. It outlines the processes of: problem identification, designing the telephone interaction, the financial model and the interface for the volunteer. It describes the application and adaptation of human computer interaction (HCI) techniques to address the needs of the local charity that co-developed the scheme. The paper begins by reporting the ethnographic work that led to the scheme; it then describes the pilot study conducted with Age Concern, York. It maps the various possible configurations for the scheme in a series of financial models expressed in tree diagrams and goes on to describe the use of pastiche scenarios in developing designs. Pastiche scenarios draw on fiction as a resource to explore, in an engaging manner, the social issues raised by technological innovations; the paper presents extracts from three such scenarios that were used to reason about dependability issues with Age Concern staff. The scheme is ongoing and plans are currently being made to extend it by recruiting university staff and other office workers as volunteer intermediaries. It is hoped that the scheme will become widely available across the city and in other locations around the UK. It is argued that volunteer telephone intermediaries can bridge digital divides and make Internet services accessible to those excluded either by age, disability or lack of resources. The development of the scheme is a case study in the ways that HCI techniques can be adopted and adapted in order to design for civil society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-56
Number of pages22
JournalInteracting with Computers
Issue number1
Early online date25 Nov 2004
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005
Externally publishedYes


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