I’m watching a fascinating (and well put together) presentation from Lisa Kimball on “Producing Social Network Environments” as part of OSN05.
Am not sure if you can get it, I think you can , try here. (need Realplayer). If you can I’d encourage you to watch it, it’s v. good!
What I’m not entirely comfortable with though is her insistence on metaphors, on environments which people are comfortable with. I get the feeling after much attendance and observation of a whole heap of different environments, that this insistence on the notion of ‘environment’ as all encompassing / our goal is in fact our no. 1 problem.
People don’t exist in environments, they exist in themselves and their semilattice-esque relationships with other actors (communities, individuals, spaces, inanimate objects…) and we can use whatever media we want and whatever metaphors we choose but this will not facilitate the development of successful online networks.
I reckon LinkedIn, Orkut etc. etc. DO NOT work… Neither do our Learning / Courseware Management Systems or, for that matter, 90% of Intranets and portals. (Dating sites do but that’s another matter, a bit like the way we buy our airline tickets online but not our clothes… perhaps) The problem, I’m convinced, lies with the misconception that it’s the environments that are important… granted, if you have a nice town square people will probably use it but you’ve gotta have the people first.
I reallly like this bit… “People don’t exist in environments, they exist in themselves and their semilattice-esque relationships with other actors (communities, individuals, spaces, inanimate objects…) and we can use whatever media we want and whatever metaphors we choose but this will not facilitate the development of successful online networks.”
This rings true with one of my current hobby horses that online environments are ostensibly designed for groups, but experienced by individuals. I think your comment finds a place a bit more in between with the idea of the lattice. Mmmm.
Thanks for the comment Nancy… this is the centred version of my lattice and I’m glad you jumped over the fence to come and visit :o)
The semilattice thing is very much inspired by this Christopher Alexander article: http://www.rudi.net/bookshelf/classics/city/alexander/alexander1.shtml
There was a bunch of research in the CSCW community a while back about this kind of issue, that people naturally flow in and out of different environments, different groups, participate in different things at the same time, in many different ways etc. The challenge of course is designing things that support this reality, but at the same time being comprehensible. Subtlety and fluidity of social interactions is incredibly hard to embody in tools!
I think that if anything has shown us we don’t need extended metaphors for online environments, it’s been Flickr and del.icio.us. Each of them keep their metaphors simple: flickr is an extended photo album, del.icio.us is for “social bookmarks” – quite an abstract concept. Neither of them go overboard trying to draw parallels to offline environments – they just are what they are.
There are occasions where a good metaphor can make all the difference – look at how far we’ve taken the desktop metaphor and how successful it’s been – but we’re beginning to learn that a simple, seamless environment can be much easier to use than one that tries to make every icon correspond with some real-world object.
Actually, now that I think about it a little more, maybe it’s not that we’ve learned that simple interfaces are easier to use than metaphor-based environments. Maybe it’s just that we’ve gotten so much more comfortable using ANY online interface that we can finally start dropping the metaphors and simplifying. We used to have to explain to everybody what all these buttons were for – now we can assume that more users understand the fundamentals and know how to find their way around.
OK, I have added the Christopher piece to my pile for the weekend. I appreciated the visuals. This “lattice” thing begs for pictures. I suspect sound too… like when you get proximal to something you want/need, a different buzz sounds to help attune. The bee metaphor pops into my head.
I also went to the simple education site you had referenced in your OSN post (sorry, I can’t remember the name and I’m on my last brain cells for the day, but I really wanted to keep the embers of this exchange glowing – even if my brain ain’t!) This idea of simplicity is growing more and more attractive to me as I become more and more overwhelmed by the tools and possibilities that float past my eyes each day. I find this somewhat challening in the “lattice” view. I know I’m talking about two different things. Hm. Struggling here.
Two more bits: Mark, your last paragraph rings true to my experience. When I work with folks in places where this is all still new, the metaphors are VERY useful, especially when grounded in their local culture. Over time, they fall away.
Thanks for the comments guys!
Mark – “Subtlety and fluidity of social interactions is incredibly hard to embody in tools” – good point, dontya get the kind a feeling that weblogs do this quite well though (in their adaptable / multi-purpose sense… i.e. you’re probably getting this by email) I can find the conference overview here: http://www.acm.org/cscw2004/prog_overview.html are the proceedings available or going to be do you know?
Nancy – Too much information, I know, I’m confused too! Hope you enjoyed the Alexander article (that was originally brought o my attentions by the amazing Clay Shirky.
“This idea of simplicity is growing more and more attractive to me as I become more and more overwhelmed by the tools and possibilities that float past my eyes each day. I find this somewhat challenging in the “lattice” view.”
I guess this is what the article is about in many ways, our natural tendency to build / develop in particular ‘uncouplex’ tree structures when if fact the world is a chaotic, latticed mess. I guess one way of looking at it would be to say that the tree-like relationships that you get in, say, a car form a much more complex whole that then finds it very difficult to interact with many different areas organically than, say, a piece of wood which can have multiple different relationships with the world. Um, perhaps, not sure if I’m making any sense of a Monday morning here!
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