Case WAP and Accountability: Shortcomings of the Mobile Internet as an Interactional Problem

Peer-reviewed Article

pp. 22-38Download full article (PDF)


Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is designed to allow access to the Internet on a mobile phone. Attempts to explain its limited success have focused on attitudinal and cognitive reasons for non-use, finding that although people recognize the benefits of WAP, issues like lack of content, privacy concerns, and reference group behavior account for non-use. Such explanations have also been incomplete in that they have not addressed problems related to actual use and interaction with the technology. Our article studies the use of WAP as situated action. We focus on how users make sense of WAP pages and how they disambiguate in situ the responses from the service, i.e., new pages and new menus. Our method of transcribing videos of WAP use following the conventions of conversation analysis offers a cost-effective tool for understanding user interaction with technology and provides useful implications for design.

Practitioner’s Take Away

  • We offer a video methodology that provides new insights into the usability of a standard technology. We encourage practitioners to try out this methodology in cases where human interaction with machines and automated services is essential. The obtained situated information provides cues for further product development.
  • Transcription of videos of actual use reveals how users reason their way when dealing with a complex small-screen device. It pinpoints their potential sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, and exposes the underlying reasons. Extracts from videos and internationally standardized transcriptions are illustrative, and can be shared with and understood by different product development teams.
  • The study indicates that testing a service on a small number of users can reveal deep insights and complement large-scale surveys. Such cost-effective testing can provide useful implications for redesign.
  • The study offers an ethnomethodological perspective to complement the acceptance perspective. In essence, we claim that people’s intentions are not necessarily a good predictor of future use of a service, and that it is better to try the service in practice, even on a limited scale in a controlled environment. Interactional issues and moral attributions are best revealed in actual use.