I began writing on communication technologies as a personal pursuit in 2003 or so, when web development work had tapered and it seemed time to get more serious about what interested me in the whole thing. I've always been fond of theory, and it occurred to me that as the web moved from information publishing to people publishing, I might carve out a niche focus in networked communication tools and applications. The sociology and psychology of interaction was rich, as were media theory, linguistics, and other theories of meaning and mediation. Early writings poke around in communication and media theory. I was interested in global theory of communication, interaction, and mediation that might incorporate insights of linguistics and verbal speech as well as insights of non co-present interaction (e.g. mediated). I still have a 350 page book draft dating to 2004 that came out of that work.
As web 2.0 took shape, my interests refocused on actual web and design practices and methods. It seemed to me that a users were rapidly testing out these new sites for what they did. The media frequently ran stories as if told from the margins of online life. These explored online personas, avatars, play, anonymity, and various kinds of dissimulation and illusion online. And as web 2.0 continued to develop, coverage took it more seriously. It was clear that the change was occurring more broadly, and that the whole web world would be affected. It was then that I thought it would make sense to try to organize my earlier interests into what I've been calling social interaction design (SxD). I found nothing specific to the social practices of web 2.0 anywhere. Designers were still talking about standard UI, UX (user experience) and interaction design practices. And yet it seemed clear that we were now designing community experiences, playing with the lines and distinctions that run between private and public, individual and audience, formal and informal interaction, and much, much more.
All of the writings here address a core set of themes: the social interface, and social interaction around communication technologies and tools. I begin with the premise that if UI, user experience, and interaction designers traditionally look at the interaction of user to device/computer/website, then social interaction designers look at user-device-user interactions. The issues that come up for us are obviously different. Matters of ambiguity in intent, communication, meaning, activity, and so on become our concern. We find dynamics among interpersonal messaging and communication tools, in group discussions, and at the more anonymous Web 2.0 level of user-generated content sites that have been described by sociologists, psychologists, and linguists in face to face encounters. But how are they different when mediated by technologies? Some of these issues were investigated under the heading CMC (computer mediated communication).
What I do I call social interaction design. The semantic distinction may just be a matter of updating the field, or may be substantial in concept and approach; it matters little. What does matter is that we recognize that design does inform user experience, and insofar as our sites and applications are reshaping how we connect, communicate, and relate to one another, there's a great deal of interesting work to be done here!
I will continue to post white papers as they take shape. I have a couple large ones in development. One is on user psychology that addresses non co-present communication, and uses concepts of self-image and other-image, combined with tendencies of internalizing and transferring intent and motive in mediated interactions. Another is a global outline of social interaction design, and really ought to be a book. Further projects include a glossary of symptoms that describes user and social practices of social media, and an examination of the hyperlink's likely future as a subjective view of web data (rather than direct link between objects).
I have decided to leave early writings here, even though they raise far more questions than they address, and are largely unorganized and non-specific (to design or web). Reading notes are my encounters with theory, and I thought might be interesting to those looking for theoretical arguments for what social media are. White papers are more formal attempts to outline web designer needs and approaches. The old stuff is in the Observations and Research sections.
I love to hear from you — if you find this work interesting, useful, provocative, or whatnot, please let me know!
Related discussions of sociology, social interaction design, and communication technologies are at my social software and technology blog.
Social Interaction Design White Papers on the design, dynamics, and concerns of social software sites, social media, web 2.0, and other user-generated content sites.
Reading Notes on theories relevant to Social Interaction Design.
An ongoing and informal research project on the interpersonal and social communication issues relevant to the design and use of technologies today—from the net to email, IM to webchat, and texting to distance learning.