Designing the Family Portal
for Home Networking
Victor M. Gonzalez
The use of information technology at home is a promising area of inquiry among scholars and practitioners (Kraut, Mukhopadhyay, Szczypula, Kiesler & Scherlis, 1999; Frolich & Kraut, 2002; Harper, 2002; Lally, 2002; Turow & Kavanaugh, 2003). Since 2001, products such as home Internet appliances, intelligent refrigerators, and WebTV consoles have been released into the market with much promise but somewhat limited success (Bergmann, 2000; Edwards, Weintraub, Irene & Reinhardt, 2003). Despite slow adoption of these homeoriented technologies, commercial interest in introducing information technologies into the home is quite intense. This study reports preliminary findings on ways that the Internet and computer technology could be integrated into family life. We used a prototype that we called the family portal as a tool to help families explore the usability and applicability of information technology at home. The prototype helped us materialize the concept and define a focal point on which to base our discussion with families. This exercise resulted in findings that we believe clarify the role of information technology in servicing the needs of the home.
With the widespread diffusion of the Internet, there is a growing sense of its indispensability among its many users (Kiesler, 1997; Hoffman, Novak, & Venkatesh, 2004). There is also increasing use of the home computer as a link between the home and external networks, such as workplace, schools, health organizations, and commercial sites (Papert, 1996; Neibauer 1999; Magid, 2000; Ruhling, 2000; Venkatesh, Kruse, & Shih, 2003). As the computer technology diffuses and becomes gradually domesticated (Harper, 2000; Cummings & Kraut, 2002), we need to supplement traditional evaluation metrics, such as productivity and efficiency, with those that take into consideration aesthetics, convenience, family dynamics, and the social and emotional needs of household members (Di Leanardo, 1987; Frohlich & Kraut, 2002; Livingstone, 2003; Turow & Nir, 2003). Thus, the home setting affords an opportunity for a unique form of design, which considers the perspective of family members and goes beyond a mere utilitarian point of view.
In this chapter, we describe how we designed an information infrastructure that uses Internet