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Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 7, Issue 844:  Wednesday, September 21, 2005

  • "Commission Recommends Voting Safeguards"
    Federal Computer Week (09/19/05); Hardy, Michael

    The Commission on Federal Election Reform issued a nine-page report on Sept. 19 listing recommendations designed to safeguard the voting process. The commission calls for interoperability between state voter databases in order to allow the easy exchange of information on voters who have relocated to another state; legislation mandating that all voting machines print a voter-verified paper audit trail and be fully accessible to disabled voters; states' adoption of explicit procedures to address inconsistencies between printed and electronic vote counts; certification of e-voting system source code security by independent testing authorities supervised by the Election Assistance Commission; and other requirements. Among the most contentious of the commission's recommendations is the call for voters to submit a national ID known as the Real ID card as proof of identity. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and other voting rights activists argue that voters who do not have driver's licenses would be disenfranchised under such a mandate. The commission report recommends that states issue an ID card to non-driving residents and permit voters without such identification to vote on provisional ballots through Jan. 1, 2010. Another critic of the Real ID recommendation is George Washington University law professor Spencer Overton, who warns that the proposal "would prevent eligible voters from proving their identity with even a valid U.S. passport or a U.S. military photo ID card." In addition, he says the provision would disenfranchise more legitimate than fraudulent voters.

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    For information on ACM stand on e-voting, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm

  • "NSF, Iowa State to Launch Cybersecurity Center"
    IDG News Service (09/19/05); Gross, Grant

    The Center for Information Protection is a joint effort between Iowa State University, the National Science Foundation, and private businesses to address short-term cybersecurity issues, says Iowa State engineering professor Doug Jacobson. The Iowa State-based center will be dissimilar from the NSF's Global Environment for Networking Investigations (GENI) project, which aims for the long-term goal of a more secure, next-generation Internet. "We're focusing on problems that are a year or two years out," says Jacobson. Such problems may include wireless security and ensuring compliance with federal regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Member companies will identify the issues the center will cover, and share the intellectual property the facility develops. Carl Landwehr with the NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate's Cyber Trust program says the center can not only develop new cybersecurity technology, but also increase awareness of cybersecurity's importance as well as train new specialists, which he says is a critical need. Landwehr says, "There's a growing awareness that cybersecurity is limiting what we are confident doing over the Internet. The National Science Foundation is trying to address that."

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  • "Restoring the Popularity of Computer Science"
    ZDNet (09/20/05); Windley, Phil

    ACM President David Patterson wrote in the September issue of Communications of the ACM about the waning popularity of computer science among students. Patterson identified the last six years as a period of steady decline in students' embrace of computer science as a field of study, with women demonstrating the lowest levels of interest ever. Citing a steady growth of 4 percent in IT wages against a 2 percent rise in inflation, Patterson argues against the notion that a slumping IT market should deter students from pursuing computer science as a career. Indeed, IT employment in the United States is up 17 percent from 1999 and 5 percent from 2000. "Such growth rates swamp predictions of the outsourcing job loss in the U.S.," concludes Patterson.

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  • "Writers Sue Google, Accusing It of Copyright Violation"
    New York Times (09/21/05) P. C3; Wyatt, Edward

    Google's Print Library program has been targeted by a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by three authors and the Authors Guild trade group yesterday. Google's project seeks to digitize library collections into a searchable archive, and each plaintiff claims copyright of at least one literary work contained in one of the libraries participating in the program. Authors Guild executive director Paul Aiken said the plaintiffs were seeking an injunction against duplication of their works, a declaration that the program is in violation of copyright law, and damages from any violations incurred thus far. According to the suit, Google should have been aware that it is required by the Copyright Act "to obtain authorization from the holders of the copyrights in these literary works before creating and reproducing digital copies of the works for its commercial use and for the use of others." Google has insisted that its library program falls under the auspices of the copyright law's "fair use" provision, and responded to the suit with the statement that the program respects copyrights. The company said authors and publishers can elect to exclude books from digitization. Google has put the digital library program on hold until November to give copyright holders time to submit certain works for exclusion, but Aiken said that inverts many principles of copyright law by placing the burden of assigning copyright protection on owners.

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  • "Where Jobs Are and Students Aren't"
    Globe and Mail (CAN) (09/21/05) P. C1; Akkad, Omar El

    Increasing numbers of North American students and graduates are turning away from tech industry careers, under the impression that job opportunities are scarce due to the industry bubble's implosion. But industry experts contend that the sector is recovering and facing a workforce shortfall as colleges churn out fewer tech employees and more current workers approach retirement age. CNC Global reports that demand for IT professionals in Canada has doubled over the past year and a half, while an Industry Canada survey issued in August finds that the ICT sector's job growth between 1990 and 2004 quadrupled that of Canadian job growth overall. Declining enrollment rates in college and university high-tech programs, combined with high demand for proficient engineers and IT personnel, is pushing salary levels up. Companies are starting to adapt to these trends in an effort to attract and retain IT talent, while others are trying to get more young people interested in pursuing tech careers through outreach initiatives. Nortel Networks, for instance, hosted summer programs to promote tech careers for women and high-school students, and is also involved in university co-op programs and a project in which students promote the company at a university and recommend fellow students for jobs. Hiring practices are also undergoing a transformation, with greater reliance on itinerant contractors or "knowledge nomads." CNC Global President Terry Powers also points out that the expansion of tech jobs across non-tech industries is driving a hiring shift whereby employees with business skills are valued more highly.

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  • "Telling You What You Like"
    Los Angeles Times (09/20/05); Pham, Alex; Healey, Jon

    The sheer volume of product available online is so great that consumers are relying on "preference engines" to find other items that might appeal to them, and the accuracy of the engines' recommendations has improved with technological advancements and the inclusion of human feedback. The most commonplace recommendation tools use collaborative filtering, a method designed to boost sales by taking products bought by people with similar tastes, as well as their browsing and shopping habits, into account. However, some people are concerned that increasingly accurate preference engines could narrow a person's tastes and fragment society into groups with abstruse interests. Swarthmore College sociology professor Barry Schwartz warns that this would cause us to "lose that sense of community we had when there were shared cultural experiences, even though we may not have liked them." Preference engines are not flawless: Their recommendations can be confused if a consumer purchases an item for another person with different preferences, and they cannot determine that people's needs have changed very well. Incorporating human judgment into recommender systems has helped circumvent some of the constraints of mathematical formulas, and increased the chances of turning people on to new products and actually broadening their tastes. University of Minnesota computer science professor (and ACM SIGCHI chair) Joseph Konstan disagrees that increasingly precise recommender systems will lead to a "cyber-balkanization" with his argument that the technology's limitations and reliance on the commonality of popular products in the world make such a scenario unlikely.

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  • "Computer Science Prof Wins MacArthur 'Genius Award'"
    Cornell Daily Sun (NY) (09/21/05); Gura, David Austin

    Cornell University professor Jon Kleinberg has won a $500,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, partly on the strength of his research into network theory. The MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as the "Genius Award," is given to researchers who stand out in terms of accomplishment, creativity, potential, and prominence. Kleinberg describes network theory as a field emerging on the fringes of social science, computer science, and applied mathematics, which is based on the principle that networks play a key role in many scientific, technological, and real-life phenomena. For example, intricate networks can be seen in molecular biology, friendships, and relationships with business associates. The Cornell professor has devised an algorithm that attempts to determine the manner in which network pathways are discovered, with applications in online communities, peer-to-peer networks, and other areas. "By advancing the state of 'network science' with inventive ideas and techniques, Jon and others are making it possible for computer scientists to explain the information world," wrote Cornell Computer Science Department Chairman Charles Van Loan in an email. Kleinberg attributes much of his success to the computer science department's tradition of encouraging undergraduates to research real problems as early as possible.

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  • "Closing the Gender Gap"
    Computer Weekly (09/20/05); Hall, Wendy

    University of Southampton computer science professor Wendy Hall cites a British Computer Society (BCS) survey of U.K. schoolgirls concluding that girls' interest in computing and IT is being discouraged by their perception of IT careers as tedious and unrewarding, indicating the failure of career advisors and the IT profession to communicate to girls that IT careers are more exciting, diverse, and fulfilling than they think. Gender bias and a lack of female role models are significant factors in women's lack of enthusiasm toward technology careers. Hall says women are now thought to account for approximately 20 percent of the total workforce, while a mere 17 percent of U.K. computer science degree entrants are female, most of them from overseas. She says the BCS is taking an active role in improving these numbers by hosting a women's group and recognizing organizations that encourage women to pursue tech careers by including a Women in IT Award in its BCS IT Professional Awards; on the horizon is a women's forum that will probe the gender gap and advise business and government on how this divide can be closed. Hall raises the need for more organizations such as Women Into IT and the Women in IT Forum, and says career advisors should tell girls that companies are very flexible when it comes to rearranging work schedules and accommodating families. Hall is generally positive that the gender imbalance in IT will be corrected as IT's role becomes more interdisciplinary and wider-ranging. She predicts that "once girls start seeing...how IT is an increasingly fundamental part of the more 'glamorous' professions, we will see a turnaround."

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    For information on ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women

  • "From Ape to 'Homo Digitas'?"
    CNet (09/20/05); Olsen, Stephanie

    Jonathan Zittrain of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School has dubbed the modern, computer-driven human "Homo digitas," though there is scarce evidence that this modern man is any more intelligent than the Homo sapien from which he evolved. It is easy to point to the staggering progress that has been made in such areas as software development, where a few programmers can now create systems at a fraction of the cost and much more quickly than large corporations could in the recent past; but this does not necessarily indicate that we are any smarter. The complexities of the Internet Age confound users with misleading, misplaced information at every turn, while to use a manual library and check out a book is easy and reliable, as well as carrying the assurance that the information is credible. An advanced understanding of the Internet is far more difficult, as users are challenged to learn the advanced settings on their search engine, as well as shouldering the responsibility for ferreting out the legitimate content from the bogus or unaccredited. The multitude of information strains the working memory, as users are challenged to process far more information than before. Children, too, are now seeing their critical thinking skills tested at an earlier age, as the information with which they are presented no longer comes with an authoritative guarantee. There is evidence of an upward trend in human intelligence, however, as New Zealand researcher Jim Flynn demonstrated in the 1980s that IQ scores had been rising three points per decade since the 1900s. Some intelligence researchers note that our problem-solving abilities have developed far faster than our verbal and critical thinking skills, but while our growing dependence on technology for solving everyday problems may be worrisome, Mohr Davidow's John Davidson notes that "the Internet is information-rich, but it is flat."

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  • "Bot Builders Scramble for Cash"
    Wired News (09/21/05); Grebb, Michael

    Despite an abundance of innovative robots developed by U.S. institutions at a National Science Foundation conference on Friday, a report from the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) announced at the event finds America's robotics research lagging behind Asia and Europe. University of Southern California computer science professor George Bekey said funding for robotics research has been declining in the United States for at least the last 10 years, with NSF currently boasting an annual budget of less than $10 million. Meanwhile, South Korea spends $80 million on robotics research yearly, the Japanese government plans to spend almost $100 million this year, and Europe intends to commit around $100 million to its Advanced Robotics program over the next three years. The results of the WTEC study show that a coordinated strategy to nurture robotics innovation is conspicuously absent from the United States. Bekey said the United States generally disdains direct government funding of robotics research that could yield consumer and business applications. Military and space robotics are among the few areas where America has overtaken Europe and Asia. U.S. institutions that showcased robots at the NSF conference included MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which demonstrated professor Daniela Rus' self-configuring molecule robot and a bipedal machine from professor Russ Tedrake that can adapt its walk to varying terrain.

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  • "Harnessing Supercomputer Power"
    Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (09/20/05); Meredith, Helen

    There is a worldwide movement to tap the resources of supercomputers in order to accelerate innovation and improve results across a wide swath of scientific and industrial fields. In Australia, this movement is represented by such organizations as the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing and the Queensland Parallel Supercomputing Foundation (QPSF), which will co-host a conference on the Queensland Gold Coast next week. QPSF is a consortium of a half-dozen local universities and their clients, which was established to improve Queensland's innovative ability and competitiveness. The alliance comes under the aegis of the Systemic Infrastructure Initiative, which is part of the Australian government's "Backing Australia's Ability" program. Australia boasts a quartet of supercomputing partnerships that use the high-speed GrangeNet and AARNet2 networks to connect researchers and their industrial clients. The High Performance Computing and Communications Center in Melbourne's Docklands is a joint venture between the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, which are using an NEC SX-6 computer and large-scale mass-storage and high-performance servers to conduct research into climate studies, weather forecasting, oceanic phenomena, air quality, and practically any work CSIRO scientists engage in. Similar centers are being set up throughout the world, using the most powerful supercomputers as their core technology.

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  • "How Open Source Gave Power to the People"
    Financial Times - FTIT Survey (09/21/05) P. 1; Waters, Richard

    Open source movements have redefined the course of the Internet's development, hinging on collaboration of like-minded people willing to share their ideas and eager to learn from each other. This new mode of innovation is epitomized by Linux and other open source movements that have tapped into a collective brain trust and shaken fee and licensing structures to their core. The Internet holds other examples that are similar to open source software development, such as the emergence of blogs and wikis, most of which allow readers to freely borrow and add to content. The business community has also embraced similar tactics, as many companies solicit feedback from users to refine their products and innovations. As the amount of research and development information available continues to grow precipitously, more companies are turning to collaborative approaches due to the awareness that it is impossible to expect their own personnel to synthesize all of it under a constrained budget. Rather than reinvent the wheel, open source movements enable expedient implementation of code that could perform very similar functions to that which is developed in-house, and the agile company will not stubbornly adhere to its internal IP. Many software companies are now offering their products freely as soon as they are released, hoping to lock in a customer base. Though it is not profitable for a company to devote time and funding to a project that is already freely available, many open source advocates admit that true innovation often demands the singular vision of an individual, and much of the publicly available code is prone to redundancy; open source is here to stay, however, and there is no denying that it will significantly alter the fee structures in place in the software industry.

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  • "New Program Aims to Woo More Kids Into IT Careers"
    InformationWeek (09/14/05); McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

    Increasing the appeal of IT careers to kids is the goal of Accelerate IT, a national educational outreach program sponsored by Microsoft and the Society for Information Management (SIM). The program will host half-day seminars for college students, first at Pace University in New York and later at Northwestern University in the Boston area. Microsoft's Mike Maas says local Microsoft executives and regional SIM members will lead the seminars with the aim of debunking various "myths" about the IT profession, such as the erosion of IT jobs to offshore outsourcing and plummeting IT salaries. The seminars will feature keynote speakers from the tech industry, hands-on IT activities, and discussion panels. SIM issued a preliminary study at its annual SIMposium conference anticipating a dearth of project management and "business domain" skills between now and 2008. The report noted that companies will not only have to contend with a decline of younger IT field entrants, but also the retirement of baby-boomer employees. SIM wants to get about 200 student attendees at each Accelerate IT seminar, while SIM executive board member Phil Zwieg says the initiative has a 2006 target of at least 10 more seminars in other cities. Although the seminars will initially concentrate on luring college freshmen and sophomores who have not yet declared a major, Zwieg says the program could be expanded to include high schoolers.

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  • "Colleges Increasing Study of Computer, Information Ethics"
    Oregon State University News (09/16/05); Stauth, David

    The ethical side of computer science and information technology has its own field at many universities, and Oregon State holds a vanguard position in this discipline largely thanks to the efforts of OSU computer science professor Michael Quinn, author of the popular textbook, "Ethics for the Information Age." Quinn says improvements in computer technology and the Internet over the past two decades have broadened the spectrum of ethical and lifestyle concerns, and students need to carefully explore the various legal, moral, technological, and philosophical issues in this domain if they are to conduct themselves more responsibly, both academically and professionally. Subjects OSU educators are focusing on include copyright infringement, software piracy, identity theft, e-voting as a tool for election fraud, censorship of online pornography, and the war against terrorism's surveillance implications. Such topics are covered in courses sponsored by Oregon's three largest public universities, which are also using Quinn's textbook. Quinn disputes the attitude of most engineers that the ability to create an invention justifies its creation, and says the impact of globalization and IT's role in jobs and economic prosperity must also be carefully studied. He says, "We do hope people who take courses such as this will grow a little, mature their judgments and reflect more carefully on some important issues."

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    To view ACM's Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct visit
    http://www.acm.org/constitution/code.html

  • "And Now, the War Forecast"
    Economist Technology Quarterly (09/05) Vol. 376, No. 8444, P. 22

    The Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model (TNDM) was designed by the Dupuy Institute to project the likely outcomes of armed conflicts. The software is considerably more accurate than other war-forecasting programs because it relies on actual combat data rather than results from battle simulations, and also has the ability to factor in intangible variables such as cunning, fear, bravery, and especially initiative. The TNDM taps a massive historical combat database. Researchers arduously sift through military archives to construct statistics that uncover cause-and-effect relationships, and analysis of actual battles is then performed to develop equations that symbolize these relationships. Dupuy Institute director Chris Lawrence says connections between the circumstances of a conflict and its outcome can be identified by testing the cause/effect equations against the historical figures in the database. A huge number of combat variables, ranging from foliage to target density to weapons reliability to armor resistance to muzzle velocities, is entered into a the mathematical model of a specific conflict, which generates a detailed forecast of casualties, gains and losses of terrain, and prisoner-of-war capture rates. The Dupuy Institute plans to improve the TNDM's accuracy in predicting the outcomes of "asymmetric" conflicts, such as guerilla fighting. The TNDM software is also a commercial commodity: Its appeal lies not just in its availability, but also in the Dupuy Institute's lack of bias towards specific military hardware or tactics, as it is an independent entity.

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  • "XRIs Resolve Identity Management Dilemma"
    Network World (09/12/05) Vol. 22, No. 36, P. 43; McAlpin, Dave

    The many benefits of identity management can be undermined by difficulties in their implementation. OASIS has developed a solution to identity management interoperability problems known as the Extensible Resource Identifier (XRI), which creates a commonality among all different types of corporate identifiers, including people, network devices, and corporate assets. XRIs expand on Ubiquitous Resource Identifiers (URIs) and Internationalized Resource Identifiers (IRIs) through the definition of standardized expressions of types, language, and dates. Rooted either in HTTP or XML, XRIs also provide useful metadata that help it identify multiple locations, formats, and retrieval methods for a given resource and choose the most appropriate. XRI's resolution process converts the authority and path portions to an XML document known as an XRIDescriptor, which then defines the resource and its retrieval method. XRI creates a stable and permanent reference to the content, and is freely available in an open source tool kit from OpenXRI.org.

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  • "Privacy and Prejudice: Whose ID Is It Anyway?"
    New Scientist (09/17/05) Vol. 187, No. 2517, P. 20; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

    Biometric IDs that establish a quick and secure method for remotely authenticating a person's identity are deemed a necessary step in view of the expanding Internet society, but a study from the European Commission's Joint Research Center warns that this move will bring with it numerous social, legal, and political issues that society is unprepared for. The failure of biometric technology could carry serious consequences: People misidentified by biometric software might be denied access to critical services, while the theft of digital identity could open the door to even more pernicious fraud. University of Warwick economist Jonathan Cave notes that biometric IDs may reduce the frequency of errors, but increase the severity of the errors that do occur, and make them more difficult to correct. The manner in which biometric systems are deployed will determine the level of risk they entail, according to Cave. A biometric ID system proposed for the United Kingdom suggests the dual storage of citizens' digital identities on cards and in a central database, but London School of Economics researchers propose a system in which only non-biometric data about each person is stored in the database; furthermore, this information can only be accessed by obtaining the person's permission. Database hacking and other traditional ways to fool ID systems could perhaps be mitigated by establishing separate digital IDs for specific purposes, and applying distinctive algorithms for the same biometric scans. Such measures make it easier to invalidate a biometric template and issue a new one to the user if their digital identity is stolen or corrupted. Regular updating of citizens' biometric profiles will also be a necessity, as biometric identifiers change with age.

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  • "LAMP Lights Enterprise Development Efforts"
    Computer (09/05) Vol. 38, No. 9, P. 18; Lawton, George

    A platform of open-source software development tools known as the LAMP stack is penetrating the enterprise thanks to a wealth of advantages over proprietary application-development tools, including greater flexibility, lower costs, and quicker upgrades to component technologies; ease of use and reliability are also cited as pluses. LAMP is comprised of the Linux operating system, Apache Web server, MySQL database, and the Perl, PHP, and Python scripting languages. Vendors have been improving these technologies by increasing their functionality, streamlining the flow of information between them, and supplying technical support that companies desire for their applications. These upgrades are primarily responsible for the employment of LAMP for large Web applications by certain companies. Proprietary software is often criticized for platform lock-in and a slow pace of development, but supporters defend the latter with the claim that such an approach ensures robust, resilient, and interoperable products. Clint Oram with SugarCRM says improvements to LAMP's component technologies address concerns about open-source software's quality and a dearth of customer support for applications built by independent developers, as well as intellectual property issues. Challenges that are keeping the enterprise adoption of LAMP relatively low include difficulties in making the LAMP elements interoperate consistently as a unified development platform. Proprietary software companies such as Microsoft aim to compete with LAMP by rolling out upgrades to their Web application-development products.

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  • "Understanding Seeking From Electronic Knowledge Repositories: A Empirical Study"
    Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (2005) Vol. 56, No. 11, P. 1156; Kankanhalli, Atreyi; Tan, Bernard C.Y.; Wei, Kwok-Kee

    Knowledge management (KM) technologies and programs are being utilized by organizations around the world to maintain their competitive advantage, and these organizations store codified knowledge for future reuse in electronic knowledge repositories (EKRs). Despite the importance of EKR usage to fully realizing the benefits of KM, few people understand the impetus behind employees' use of EKRs. Researchers at the National University of Singapore conceived and empirically tested a theoretical model relating potential preceding factors to EKR usage for knowledge seeking, based on the theories of planned behavior and task-technology fit. The study involved a survey of 160 knowledge workers in Singaporean public-sector organizations who use EKRs, and found that EKR usage for knowledge seeking is directly affected by perceived output quality as well as resource availability. A high level of perceived output quality encourages employees to seek out knowledge via EKRs because the knowledge allows them to perform tasks more effectively. The impact of resource availability on EKR usage is especially pronounced when task tacitness is low and task interdependence is high. High task interdependence can stimulate EKR usage for knowledge seeking when coupled with the availability of incentives such as more pay, bigger bonuses, improved job security, or career advancement opportunities. Unsupported by the study were the hypotheses that perceived ease of use is positively related to EKR usage for knowledge seeking under conditions of high task tacitness and low task interdependence, and that knowledge sharing norms have a significant relationship with EKR usage for knowledge seeking.

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