Thank you for this opportunity to bring into the open serious difficulties I am having using the technology for broadly-defined 'social networking', and I would be grateful if you can let Vin have the following information in an appropriate form. It might be that my experiences constitute useful research material for that minority of us who do not use 'standard' equipment. I make a comprehensive reply since not only might this be useful to Vin, but also useful for other studies on digital exclusion of those who do not use the standard equipment.
The 'non-standard' equipment I use includes the following:
I find the following problems, usually in the forms of limitations on what I am able to do. But, first, a list of things that are no problem at all.
In the following things I find no problem:
1. Modem is slow, so large files take a long time to download. This means that I tend to keep emails of over 100k in size on the server until I have access to faster network within the University. Files over 100k in size include mainly emails with attachments (pdf, doc, xls, ppt, jpg, etc.)
Result: Long emails are received several days late.
Result: Some emails are always on the 'wrong' machine, unless I take the trouble to copy them to USB stick.
Result: I cannot use things like facebook, because of its huge download requirements. e-discrimination.
2. Modem connection is, for some reason, also unreliable. It is not the phone connection that is unreliable, but rather that some server machines at my ISP 'go to sleep' midway through a download. Especially in long downloads.
Result: Further disincentive to not download long emails.
3. Sometimes it takes several attempts to connect to the server. (The phone connection is OK; it is the server systems that are the problem.)
Result: When in a hurry, I try twice then give up. So it might be up to 24 hours later that I actually send off the emails. This can result in urgent replies not being sent as quickly as they should.
1. For most graphics files: Amiga has drivers OK. No problem.
2. For MSWord .doc files: Amiga has drivers and other software which can extract text. Usually this is all I need. But the following content of MSWord files cause either a problem or an inconvenience:
Inconvenience: Tables. My standard drivers render tables as just lines of text, which is OK for simple tables when I can count the lines. But for complex tables, I have to use a certain piece of software, which converts .doc to .html and view it with browser. This software is, for some reason, rather slow (translated from the un*x community).
Inconvenience: Footnotes. All footnotes' text is extracted OK. But only one of the drivers (not my favourite one) retains the links between them and the main text; so I have to remember to use this driver where there might be footnotes.
Mild Problem: Graphics. Some diagrams are extracted as separate files (OK), but some are just lost. However, usually, the diagrams are not needed. And if I do need them, I can usually get a paper copy (which is what I always prefer anyway).
Problem: Forms to fill in. I have no way to fill in forms on a MSWord document and return it. Since increasingly people are assuming that I can just fill in such forms online, especially in University admin procedures, this excludes me or inconveniences others.
Inconvenience: I am unable to generate MSWord files, such as when required by paper publishers. I can however generate HTML files that can be easily loaded in MSWord, so this is usually not a major problem unless recipient is fussy.
Result: My correspondence with people using MSWord is usually OK as long as people are not fussy. Where content other than text is important, I tend to be excluded from some correspondence and social networking.
3. For pdf. Amiga has a piece of software which can display pdf files in a very clumsy and slow manner. I seldom use that. However Amiga does also have a couple of bits of software that will extract text from pdf files, which I use most of the time. This software can extract not only text, but also footnotes, tables and even diagrams in which text occurs. However, the translation from pdf to text is slow (from 10 - 120 seconds).
Result: If I am in a hurry, I do not look at pdfs.
Result: Some exclusion from academic papers.
4. For MS Excel and Powerpoint: Amiga has no drivers. This is usually no problem since I usually have no need to look at these. Usually if there is a powerpoint I need to see, I email the sender and ask them to convert it to pdf, and then can read it as above.
For the vast majority of web accesses there are no problems. The browser I use, AWeb, is a beautiful browser, with true multi-threading and multi-tasking, which facilitates my downloading several things at once. However, the following problems sometimes occur because the browser I use (AWeb) does not have drivers for certain things.
1. Very mild inconvenience, which is actually positive. AWeb does not process CSS (cascading style sheets), so web pages are shown as 'boring' text.
Result: This is not really a problem, in fact it is often very useful because it strips away a lot sf unnecessary graphical stuff like adverts, leaving just the important stuff like text.
Result: I cannot see the page as the author meant it to look like - but I don't think I have ever found a need to do so.
2. Problem, but becoming less so. AWeb does not have a driver for Flash.
Result: With badly designed sites, which have a flash animation and nothing else on entry page, I cannot access. However, now that Flash is used less, this is less of a limitation. Also, the loss is usually on their side, not mine.
3. Mild inconvenience. AWeb does not have drivers for pdf, doc, etc. However, it DOES allow me to save these files, and then I can process them using my other Amiga drivers (see above).
Result: Mild inconvenience, of having to save the files before looking at them (however, I would normally do this anyway).NOTE: AWeb *does* have drivers for all the graphics standards like jpeg, gif, png, etc.
Result: Some pages just do not work, especially those that are badly designed, because they have buttons to proceed to next page that rely on JS. This is especially true of e-commerce and other Web 2.0 sites.
Result: In particular, I cannot access the University Intranet, because it is (badly?) designed so that JS is necessary. (If I do need to use Intranet, such as for entering marks, I come into the University and use a machine there. This can be a major inconvenience to both myself and others. I am excluded from most that depends on Intranet.
5. Problem. AWeb's security is only SSL3, and many applications nowadays demand other security standards.
Result: I cannot pay by PayPal. This excludes me from most e-commerce. (Not that I personally mind particularly!)
Result: I believe this is also a factor in excluding me from the University Intranet.
Result: I cannot use GMail for email.
Result: Though I can read people's blogs on blogspot, I am unable to post comments. This excludes me from discussions.
Overall Result: Because of problems (4) and (5), and because of my use of modem, I just tend not to try using Web 2.0 sites (e-commerce, e-government), because I assume I will not be able to use them. Sometimes I find I can (for instance Dutch sites tend to be accessible for me, because well designed). But mostly I just don't bother. I have too many other things to do.
Result: I am largely excluded from Web 2.0.
I use YAM (Yet Another Mailer). This uses MUI (Magic user Interface) drivers for display, which is rather unstable. However, apart from that, I find few problems with emailing. The main problems I find are:
1. Very mild inconvenience: .doc attachments. These I can look at immediately with one of the drivers that extract the text very fast (see above). Only problem is when non-text content is important, when I have to save to file and process away from the email system.
2. Inconvenience: .pdf attachments. These I must save and process by separate software, and cannot view immediately from the emailer. See above.
3. Problem. YAM uses POP3 to read emails, not IMAP. The University has just closed down the POP3 server. So I cannot access University emails directly. Instead, they must be redirected to my private email address. This does not work perfectly, e.g. the redirection process filters out the co-recipients of emails, so I cannot reply to the entire list. (This problem is being investigated.)
Result: In most cases this is no problem. But it prevents me from posting comments to multiple recipients, and hence I am currently excluded from group discussions.
I am able to do a lot of work, but am excluded from some Web 2.0 and social networking activities. Many of these do not matter to me personally. But for other people it might be a problem, if they are using non-standard equipment or platforms. I believe this is a serious problem, not because of the number of people involved but because of its invisibility: most people in commerce and government and standards bodies are simply NOT AWARE of this type of exclusion.
To say "Just get yourself standard equipment" is not the answer; there will always be some valid reasons why not. In my case it is for sake of research, familiarity and productivity. But in other cases it might be impoverishment or other factors. This problem of platform exclusion should be taken more seriously. This is not in the list of standard exclusions (gender, race, sexuaaity) but is nevertheless likely to become increasingly important. The current situation is like the road system being converted so that only Fords and Renaults being able to use it, and all other makes excluded from it.
I trust that Vin will be able to find this of interest and value and importance and will not exclude this issue from his consideration.
Andrew. 23 June 2008