Adrian Chan on Slideshare Adrian Chan on twitter Adrian Chan on instagram email me


Social Interaction Design

Social Practices

Social media users have to engage users with themselves, and through this help users appeal to others. It's said that we see others as whole but experience ourselves as differentiated. Online, we look whole. Whether it's the member profile, blog, message board posts, posted videos or something else web 2.0, these representations are re-presentations, self-presentation and presentation of the Self. Social media are about personas and personality, and as tools they must spare the user inadvertent embarrassment and facilitate expression and communication.

The screen organizes interactions, in what it shows as well as what it doesn't

Appealing to the Other

  • Social media content must help users appeal to each other
  • Personal style, online profile, character and personality
  • Appearance, looks, pictures, poses, qualities
  • Knowledge, know-how, expertise, credibility
  • Informal social position by friends, network, popularity, testimonials, compliments
  • Formal social position by profession, rank, status, accreditation, employer
  • Social capital by value to users and community

Organizing the screen is an exercise in sorting, filtering, and arranging social activities

Common practices

As social media evolve they foster an emerging set of common cultural and social, as well as technical, practices. These reinforce themselves over time and through use, becoming more differentiated, organized, and recognizable. They are what we have to see and recognize if we are to support them with design, features, and functionality.

  • Social practices emerge on social media as use becomes another way of maintaining and participating in relationships
  • Tell by posting
  • Show by uploading
  • Talk by commenting
  • Seek by querying
  • Ask by questioning
  • Opinionate by blogging
  • Associate by tagging


The folksonomy, popularized in the form of tag cultures and other examples of long tail economics, is the social and participatory mode of organizing information. It captures user activity and updates itself so that it shows value: what users used most and least. In this manner it builds and reinforces relationships and association among content and data elements. It is democratic in its mode of participation but subject to interest in what's popular, and for this is sometimes biased towards what's new and most favorite. Be that as it may, folksonomies are a reflection of taste and use, and are a valued alternative to hierarchical arrangements.

  • Flat and non-hierarchical navigation through content categories, labels, and tags that reflect their popularity in use
  • Self-reinforcing associations as use by communities of users privilege tags used most
  • Provide a view of the values and selections most popular among users
  • Permit change and news to continually reach the surface
  • Are a snapshot in time and are thus current

Users recognize more than is given: social media refer to cultural and social practices and pastimes

Mini Me-dia

Mass media are the broadcast of content through one-way media and means of distribution. Mini "me"-dia package user personality and participation in forms common to and borrowed from mass media. They make news of us, subjects of our contributions, and build interest in our interests. Social media are not just the media of the social web, but are the socialization of mass media. The social media designer watches mainstream media for stories, narratives, biographies, topics, trends and more that might translate well to social media.

  • Mass media inform the content and organization of social media
  • Cultural and social references and presentations are readily available in the mass media and by virtue of digital distribution are easily quoted and repurposed
  • Social media are user-centric
  • Personal is news
  • Person is privileged
  • Personality is popular


  • All cultures practice the exchange of tokens that bear and carry meanings, communicate interest and count as personal and social transactions
  • The token gestures common among social media are a form of language and belong to a kind of social interaction
  • They cue, signal, indicate users' interests in one another
  • They indicate users' interests in social media content, and like badges, can be accumulated to communicate personality quickly
  • They can be used to distinguish among user and content qualities and characteristics
  • Some are given, some earned, some collected
  • Simple gestures are approval and affirmation, acceptance: variations on a vote "yes"
  • Expressive gestures signal affection, interest, curiosity, a desire to connect, or to communicate: variations on "I like you" and "Do you like me?"
  • Tokens that can be passed around, given, shared, and accepted form a special class of social objects
  • Have recognizable and stable meanings to competent users (may be common or specialized tokens)
  • Accompanied by ambiguity of intent and motive (the token's meaning may be codified while the user's motive for using it may not)
  • This can double up the meaning of interaction and communication, allowing the recipients of tokens to respond to the token or to the user behind its use
  • Their use and circulation can be easily counted, tracked, and measured
  • They can qualify relationships and social interests
  • Tokens may be limited or limitless, counted or not, private or public

Related blog posts

Related white papers

Related reading notes

Related reading notes

Social Films

  • A spate of what I call "social films" has been making it to the screen over the past years: films that use ensemble casts, accidental and sometimes random relationships and events, and which resolve in grace and sometimes human kindness
  • Robert Altman was one of the greats to explore the tapestry that a good ensemble cast, improvised dialog, and multiple handheld cameras could produce. Kieslowski, P.T. Anderson, Mike Leigh, Inarritu, Bunuel, Godard, Wai, Antonioni were among many others
  • These films capture a certain zeitgeist, be it as old as modernity or as recent as the future
  • Their theme is often the breakdown of community, the unraveling of society, and how individuals might yet stitch a riptorn social fabric back together — or not
  • The crux of most social films is the personal relationship possible between strangers, and all of the trust, commitment, and risk inherent in it. Not unlike what's at stake for social media users.
  • Be it P2P, social media, SMS, or what have you, communication technologies often participate in what pataphysics calls the imaginary solution to an imaginary problem. Social technologies promise to solve social anomie: to connect the disconnected or network the disparate.
  • All media, mass media, consumer generated media, social media, engage in a cultural conversation that is an observation and commentary on itself at the same time. Films and television distill out the stakes and write the stories that resonate. Some are a rich source of ideas and vision.

Blog posts on social films

©2007 - 2009 by Adrian Chan. All Rights Reserved. Adrian [ at ] gravity7 [ dot ] com 415 . 516. 4442