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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 Friendster.com, MySpace.com, and Tribe.net. 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

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