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Social Interaction Design White Papers

Summary: These white papers are a series of social interaction design guides, design frameworks and approaches, and studies (with some some screenshots) on the design of content in social software and social media sites. Papers tackle a variety of issues familiar to the development, information architecture, navigation, UI, user experience, interaction design of social media, online communities, web 2.0 applications, badges, widgets, and so forth. The papers describe what appears on the screen, how it structures content and provides for social navigation and member presence, how users and communities take shape and how their contributions become social practices of a new kind. The white papers apply to social software design, software research, and the design of social media, user generated content sites, and web 2.0 in general.

Download MySpace Case Study Draft 2006, 5M pdf.

One of several planned case studies in the social interaction design of social software services. The document looks at MySpace as a service designed to support a particular type of social interaction, a self-presencing system in which social scenes emerge around individuals.

Excerpt: From the summary


Summary

MySpace is a social software service that offers communication and interaction tools with which members profile themselves, find friends, contact other members, post and obtain images, files, and more. The site ranks 13th on the web for traffic, and is hugely popular as an online meeting place. What makes it so successful? What kinds of insights into social interaction design can we obtain from it?

The name alone suggests that MySpace is a kind of "presencing" system: personal presence within a social context. Members present themselves on it through their profiles, and engage in a form of online socializing that works by creating local scenes around members rather than places, events, or discussions. People are the site's content, each member's profile standing in for him or her 24/7. MySpace has a proactive "always on" posture towards virtual presence. While members don't have to meet in real-time as they do, for example, in online games, lines are always open and the dial tone is constant. And MySpace occupies a strange zone between public and private-as the online world is a public space not in the present tense, but in the archived tense. Similarly, one's presence online is not real in the physical present, but becomes real and valid as it attracts attention and participation. If there is such a thing as social capital, then it is earned and spent as social currency at MySpace, and one's presence has the value that accrues to those who can demonstrate social competence (read: flirtation).

MySpace is also a talk system, which all social software applications are to some degree or another, and it's the perfect example of a unique form of what sociologist Erving Goffman called "civil inattention." Civil inattention is that non-committal recognition we provide strangers in public places: "I see you, you exist, and though I can't say that I want to talk, I'm not ignoring you, either." Members on MySpace receive postings to their profile page that are short, often pithy testimonials and greetings-but which make no call on the member to respond there in kind. Profile page thus attract comments, these comments becoming a roster of one's social circle and network of friends. And because the comments are there for others to see, they have social content and intent: they're written as a reflection on the friend and friendship as much as they are for anything else. So MySpace facilitates a kind of low-intensity social mirroring: hellos and compliments produce a kind of flirtation. Not civil inattention, but undemanding attention.

What's remarkable about this kind of service, as simple and undemanding as it is, comes with its scale. Philosopher and sociologist Niklas Luhmann described mass media as a second order narrative about society, a reflection of society upon itself, constructed as such and for the purpose of guiding a society's members and institutions to selecting signal from noise. MySpace is big enough that it is, in itself, a mass media institution. It's like a participatory "American Idol." (That would be an interesting comparison in fact, as the challenge of auditioning on AI is highly social, increasingly nasty, and incredibly hard not to watch all the same.) A popularity contest, profiling/personals/talk show system that has the population big enough to break a new band and produce trends of its own. And that is interesting. MySpace is proof that a talk system can give big media-its high production values, celebrities, focus-grouped taste-making and ad-funded messaging notwithstanding-a run for its money. Ironically, most social software users will complain that MySpace is the ugliest of the bunch (Tribe.net, Friendster, Orkut, Yahoo 360). Which is all the more reason to investigate the power of social technologies to create meaningful user experiences.

MySpace: A Social System at work

  • Participation involves the demonstration of the member's social competence in self-presentation and social interaction online
  • Social interactions on mySpace tend to be unstructured, loose, and fast-youthfully social in their content, in other words
  • Direct communication between members, and association with popular members, attracts crowds, provides a scene in which users can see themselves being seen, and focuses the social scene on popular members
  • Social interactions are open and ongoing
  • A high degree of face is wagered and given on the site, again preserving a focus on member-produced content over media consumables and mass-media participation
  • The service represents a kind of grassroots mass medium, bypassing commercial marketing speech for testimony (authentic or strategic) passed among friends.

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