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White Papers

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 Social Interaction Design Guide: Social Media, Social Practices, Social Content 2006, 800k pdf, 76 pages.
Download Social Interaction Design Guide: Social Media, Social Practices, Social Content 2006, 800k word doc, 76 pages.

A Social Interaction Design guide to the use of social and user-generated content on sites to drive and compel user participation. This white paper covers a variety of content types from perspective of what makes them either social, or communicative. I look at blogging, commenting, profiles, tags, and more, all within the framework and structure of sites that structure user interaction for participation.

Excerpt: From the summary

A socio-technical mashup?

We are a modern society, and competence describes our participation in it far better than inheritance or tradition. It's even possible, if claims of social fragmentation are accurate, that a new kind of mobility and mashup of culture, society, technology, and economy is underway: a redesign of roles, of social hierarchy, of influence, wealth, and so on. It certainly seems the case that new media, new communication tools, networked cultures and communities undermine all kinds of mainstream cultural traditions: from network television programming to branding and breaking bands. How has this come about?

It all comes back to the Internet, which is a platform agnostic medium itself capable of absorbing and then repurposing existing media. The net can be print, it can be radio, and it can be television. At the same time, the net is absorbing and repurposing communication tools and technologies: the net can be the mail, it can be faxing, the telephone, it can be CB, Ham radio, and it can be the message board. Mix all of those up, and you get a gross reorganization of all media and all communication tools in their relations to one another. And you get new social practices emerging around tools, and around media, as well as around people and cultures. It's for this reason that I believe in framing a new kind of design discipline, one I call Social Interaction Design, or SxD for short.

We can no longer make sense of social software and related applications from a user-centric model—at least not the model that has come out of cognitive science. That model has insisted on a rational user, a goal-oriented user interested in achieving his or her objectives. An application would either satisfy or confound the user, and designers could set about improving UX and UI until users were all happy. But social technologies are different:

  • We often end up engaging in something that wasn't on our minds when we started.
  • Transactions are not discrete, they're ongoing and episodic.
  • More often than not we're communicating with others, and communication clearly exceeds rational actor models of analysis (it's psychological, it's meaning-based, it involves self, other, performance, and so on).
  • Interaction with others is mediated and so therefore we need new practices and new etiquettes, or codes of conduct and behavior (even when these are tacit, as most of them are).
  • These technologies seem to have a relationship of observation and supplementation to real cultural phenomena and practices. Online dating does not replace dating. Online discussions do not replace real conversation. And the topics found in many of these services relate to real world news as if they are commentary on it.
  • These tools enable direct interaction with others but often in a kind of public context.
  • The activity on these applications is captured and then used by them, making social media dynamic (updated as they're used): in short, a production medium that records as it produces.
  • Much of the social dynamic here, because it's rooted in social action, involves attention: paying attention, sharing attention, getting attention. Attention is the scarcity of these economies, not goods and materials.
  • Where user interaction with non-communicating and non-social media is discrete, social interaction is ongoing. User actions don't end with a function or operation's conclusion; they solicit response from others. It is other users that pick up and continue a user's action (that action being a communicative one: blog posting, video posting, commenting, etc.)
  • These media are distribution media as well as content media, and their distribution is handled in part by web protocols, in part by communication (email, sharing, etc.), making them quick to create or to lose audiences.
  • Any medium of experience structures experience according to its intervention in reality. Some part of our interaction is with the medium itself. For this reason we can't ignore such simple things as pictures, text, links, etc., any more than architects would ignore differences between surface materials like concrete, stone, glass, and wood. (Not to mention 50's era carpeting.)
  • It's possible that social media operate in a kind of tolerable and sustained failure mode, by which I mean that people often get engaged because they can't tell what's happened to their participation (dates don't happen; jobs aren't obtained; friends don't communicate; blogs aren't commented on). But the possibility of missing an opportunity, combined with the fact that there's no way to know what's going on online besides going online to check, creates traffic in and of itself!

I could make more distinctions here but the point should be clear now: architecture, design, and implementation of these things puts them in a category of their own, an admixture of social and technical practices best approached from a socio-technical orientation.

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