Deep in social thoughts

apologies for how quiet I have been for the last several weeks. I have been deep in the thick of writing and boy is it fun.

The first chapter of our book, Designing Social Interfaces: Principles, Patterns and Best Practices sets some context and a bit of history – which if you know me at all is one of my great loves. So I have been throwing myself back into the history of community and social design for electronic interfaces as well as writing about the history / evolution of the use of Patterns in design and the development of pattern languages.

The community research had me pull out all my old books on designing community from the 1980’s and 1990’s as well as trolling the internet for articles from a variety of sources. I have read articles from Wired, from Salon, from Fast Company, Red Herring, from First Monday, the New York Times and from the wealth of research papers at MIT Media Lab and Berkeley.

It’s been interesting to look back to the time when the web was new and we were building community tools and features to replicate what people had been doing in the MUDS, MOOS and on BBSs. Things were so primitive and the tools had a hard time with mirroring the richness or real-life social interactions. But people adapt (the success of The Well attests to that) and the web has adapted as well.

One of the most interesting articles I found was a review of Six Degrees.com on Salon — Six Degrees to Nowhere — which came out in 1998. The site really was far ahead of its time given where we are now with tools like facebook, friendster, orkut and other social networks. But the Salon article is funny in hindsight because it basically pans the site (for why it exists in the first place, for the cold start issue—which is still an issue—for technical issues and for the notion of friends of friends and weak ties—which researchers are now saying are incredibly important in networking. I remember using the site and having a similar reaction at the time. There simply weren’t enough people I cared about online using tools like this at that point in time. Boy how things change in 10 years.

I have been fascinated by how prescient Howard Rheingold was in terms of the tools and his predictions for what people would be able to do on the internet from a community and social perspective and have huge respect for the work that Judith Donath at MIT is doing with her grad students. I almost want to go back to school and get academic. There is a good interview with Rheingold in Derek Powazek’s book Design for Community.

The most recent books I have my hands on are Joshua Porter’s book Designing for the Social Web and Charlene Li’s book Groundswell which is a must have if you are trying to plan social tools to enhance or build your business or if you think you don’t need any of these tools. Both these guys are on the conference circuit talking about their books and concepts from them – well worth a trip if you they happen to be speaking nearby.

While I have been down in the weeds in this research, it nets out to just a couple of pages of synopsis to give some context to where we are as an industry in developing and designing social and socially enhanced tools using the internet as a medium.

Christian and I are in the throes of our work with deadlines looming throughout this fall. I hope to be able to post more as we move things along – especially once we get into the nitty gritty of pattern writing. I hope that we will put patterns out there for the community to comment on so that what ends up in the book is not just our work, but the work of all the super smart people I know working in this space.

More later…

erin
current: partner, tangible user experience :: a full-service user experience design consulting firm. former Yahoo! founder of the public and internal Yahoo! pattern library. dse. design director of ued teams responsible for designing solutions across key yahoo! platforms: social media, personalization, membership and vertical search.

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