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Social Interaction Design White Papers

These white papers attempt to capture and frame the issues and approaches particular to social interaction design (SxD for short). Each addresses a particular aspect of the design of social software. As they were written over the past three years, they progress from theoretical considerations, which drove the first papers, to the more design-oriented topics covered in recent papers.

In the early papers I examine social software sites and online communities whose participation and user experience reflected the closed system character of sites like,, and In particular, I was interested in the degree to which those sites produced rich relationships and mediated social interactions, including group and cultural dynamics. The later white papers take up social interaction on open systems and include discussions of Web 2.0 elements, navigation, and content organization. In these, interactions and user contributions are bound less by community membership and more by emerging social practices. Clearly, early adopters of sites like Friendster (one could go back to CMC systems, usenet, IRC chats and so forth of the 90s) helped to establish practices that have now been widely adopted by social media in general.

I've tried to identify the "engines" of user participation at work in a variety of thematically-oriented social media systems, including the communication, transaction, social, and economic models behind each. I describe all of these systems as "talk systems," and model the user and social interactions manifest in each on conversation and speech, rather than publishing and writing. It seems clear that the Web's ability to make users visible through their own contributions involves a production of "presence" that leads inevitably to psychological, interpersonal, communicative, and social phenomena that we observe and assign to these systems, but which emerge at the second, not first, order of user interaction. Thus the problem of designing social software is a problem of applying leverage and guidance through the site's information architecture, navigation schema, use of communication tools, presentation of user contributions, and structuring of time (from permanent to fast-fading content). Social interaction design perhaps most resembles that of the urban architect: design, planning, modeling, and execution still cannot (thankfully!) regulate actual use. But walkways, open spaces, landscaping, use of light and surface, perspective and material do of course create context and environment.

The user falls into a relationship with a site's other users, or audience, that sets his or her needs and expectations as much as the software design itself. Hence the importance of moving from a user-centric methodology to one that applies our understanding of communication and interaction as social practices. On social media systems, all action is socially informed. And yet the social cannot be engineered. Hence the importance of understanding and anticipating the social dimensions of activity on these sites.

I hope you enjoy these, and as always I welcome feedback. Upcoming papers will cover recent trends in Web 2.0 sites and services, and directions for the development of future systems. I hope to also post in-depth UI critiques of popular web 2.0 and social media sites.

White Papers

  • Social Interaction Design Guide: The Social Engine that Drives Review Sites 2007, pdf, 16 pages. NEW! A Social Interaction Design guide to the social engine and engineering of user motivation and participation on review sites. This lighter-than-usual white paper looks at the social practices engaged in web sites built around user reviews. In particular, the paper examines the way in which reviews can become a kind of personal profiling system for reviewers. It also looks at how reviews create and add value, and poses the question of how business might participate in social marketing of this kind.

  • Social Interaction Design Guide: Social Media, Social Practices, Social Content 2006, 800k pdf, 76 pages. NEW! 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.

  • Social Interaction Design and the User Interface 2006, 8M pdf. A preliminary approach to Social Interaction Design issues, and methods of analysis for the designer of social software, online communities, social media, and any other communication technology that involves social as well as user practices. Using several social software sites as examples (, MySpace, Friendster, FastCupid personals, Flickr, and Typepad blogging), I explore the basic premise that in social software, all design choices inform user communication and interaction.

  • MySpace Case Study Draft 2006, 5M pdf. One of several planned case studies in the social interaction design of social software services. This short white paper document looks at as a service that allows its members to become scenes of social interaction.

  • Attributes of Online Social Systems Draft 2005, 130k pdf. A big picture look at some of the ways in which social practices emerge on social software systems.

  • Culture, Groups, and Individuals in Social Software Draft 2005, 341k pdf. A preliminary review of why social interaction designers need to think of social practices instead of single-user practices. This paper breaks down the distinctions between individuals, groups, and culture overall on social software sites. The paper examines ways in which self-presentation and presence, proximity, rhythm and timing, and much more form the particular kinds of interactions seen among online communities

  • Proximities Book Abstract 2003, 164k pdf

  • Investigations into Technologies of Communication 2003, 464k pdf

Related discussions of sociology, social interaction design, and communication technologies are at my social media and web 2.0 blog.

©2006 by Adrian Chan. All Rights Reserved. Adrian [ at ] gravity7 [ dot ] com 415 . 516. 4442