Norm(s)!

· long story short

norm from cheers - greeting him when he entered was part of fitting in at the barOver the years as I’ve made a study of online communities and other forms of sociality, I’ve discovered (of course) a lot of other people doing important research work in the field. When we started writing our book I reached out to one such friend, Gary Burnett, a professor of communication and information who’s been doing excellent work in precisely this area.

In fact, not two years ago we appeared together on a panel at a Grateful Dead conference at U. Mass where we spoke about how Deadhead communities (and “communitas”) were fostered, enhanced, or splintered by the advent of online communication.

Gary contributed an essay to the book on explicit and implict norms in online groups, using insights gleaned in part from the formative USENET network. This is a topic Erin and I knew we wanted to drill down on, as its been long understood that healthy online communities seem to succeed best when participants have a clear understanding of acceptable norms of behavior.

Why the distinction between explicit and implicit norms? I’ll let Gary explain:

Social norms may be defined as a set of values particular to a group, the purpose of which is to provide a sense of balance, a mechanism by which people may gauge what is “normal” and acceptable in a specific context or situation. Such norms are not defined by outside factors; rather, they emerge directly from the activities, motives, and goals of the group itself. Social interfaces function as settings within which such a process may take place. The sociologist Robert K, Merton, in a classic formulation of social norms, distinguished between attitudinal and behavioral norms. However, since attitudes are visible in online settings only through visible behavior – only, that is, through the medium of textual production – it seems more appropriate to think of norms in online interactions in terms of a different distinction. Online social norms can be divided into two types: Explicit and implicit norms.

To find out how exactly these types differ and what roles they play, you’ll need to first read Gary’s essay and then delve further into the rest of his published work.

(Bit by bit we are making sure all the essays are available online, either hosted on their authors’ blogs or personal websites or in some cases included in the project’s wiki, where we’re maintaining a list of essays.)

Are we doing any good?

· Design, Social Design, User Experience

image of a cathedralOne of my favorite essays published in our book is Matte Scheinker’s, called Are we building a better Internet?.

I asked Matte to write about ethics because it was a burning topic for the book and one that he and I used to kick around a bit as an oft-neglected issue in web design and development.

There are tradeoffs in customer acquisition, in growing a network, in handling privacy concerns and the related disclosures, some of which we are seeing at play right now in the controversial launch of Google Buzz, that we both felt do not always get the attention they deserve.

And yet when I speak about ethical issues and the inevitable conflicts between values and business goals and community interests and individual rights, I find that there is a hunger for seriously considering these topics. We all sense that we are “playing with people’s lives” in this work and that it matters how we do it.

Matte has a great way of easing into the trickiest questions:

Imagine for a moment what today’s design decisions will do to mold the Internet’s future. What if every product decision you made last week became a successful design meme? Would that create an Internet where you’d want your kids to play?

Sometimes we get lucky and it’s not difficult to discern the difference between right and wrong. Don’t sell user data because you’re short on beer money. Don’t keep emailing users after they unsubscribe. Don’t read user emails to find the next great stock pick. These are certainly over-simplified dilemmas, and sadly, most ethical dilemmas aren’t as clear-cut.

… but you’ll want to read the whole thing™.

(Bit by bit we are making sure all the essays are available online, either hosted on their authors’ blogs or personal websites or in some cases included in the project’s wiki, where we’re maintaining a list of essays.)

Putting the social in the mobile

· Design, Mobile, Social Design, User Experience, Yahoo!

calder mobile - satelitesMy continuing series of blog posts linking to essays published in our book, well, continues now with Billie Mandel’s Designing Social Interfaces for Mobile, in which she writes:

Contextually speaking, mobile phones are by definition social networking devices. Breaking out of the classic phone/phone book mental model and transforming that experience to include 21st century-style social networking, though – that’s where the fun challenge is for designers. Asking ourselves some mobile-specific questions can lead us as a community to create some exciting, disruptive social interfaces for mobile.

See also her essential list of do’s and don’ts.

(Bit by bit we are making sure all the essays are available online, either hosted on their authors’ blogs or personal websites or in some cases included in the project’s wiki, where we’re maintaining a list of essays.)

Talking social patterns with thriving UX communities in London and Berlin

· Design, Events, Patterns, Social Design, User Experience, Yahoo!

xian in londonA week or so ago I undertook a whirlwind visit to the UK and the Continent, giving two presentations about design patterns and social design, one in London on Tuesday, and another in Berlin on Thursday, each event sponsored by YDN (and the one in Germany co-sponsored by the local IxDA group).

The London event was in a wonderful gallery/cafe venue called Wallacespace filled with a standing-room only crowd. I was pleased to see a couple of friends from the international UX community there and the audience as a whole was wonderful, attentive, and ready with interesting, challenging questions for me when I was done.

Afterward we ate some snacks and drank some beers courtesy of YDN, before heading over to a nearby pub for more beers and conversation. This was my first time back in London in fourteen years and I was impressed by the vibrancy of the web-design community in what may be the “capital” of the Web in Europe.

The next day I headed to Berlin, where a pal picked me up at the airport and helped me get settled in my hotel in Alexanderplatz. It’s actually been 20 years since I was in Berlin! Back then, the Wall had only recently been dismantled and the east was frozen in a sort of time capsule due to economic stagnation. A lot has happened since Berlin reunited and resumed its role as the capital of Germany and arts mecca of Mitteleuropa. In fact, there was a fashion convention going on during my visit, so the airport and hotel were full of people who made me feel, in comparison, more like a geek than a designer.

East Berlin is now full of trendy gentrified neighborhoods. I had lunch at a burrito place (!) called Dolores that’s decorated with maps of the Mission in San Francisco. Clearly the internet-savvy crowd in Berlin feels a kinship with our own community in the Bay Area.

Berlin is also the home of a thriving local Interaction Design Association (IxDA) group, which helped secure the venue for my talk–(Newthinking Store) and helped promote and publicize my talk. I had a chance to meet some longtime virtual acquaintances from the IxD and IA communities in Berlin, such as Jan Jursa, of IATV and the Berlin IA Cocktail Hour.

The Berlin talk was also full, and again I was blessed with a generous and attentive crowd. More great questions. (We did the whole evening in English. Try as I might to speak slowly, I still probably spoke a bit too fast at times but just about all the German I know is noch ein Bier, bitte so it’s just as well.)

One interesting difference between the two groups is that the folks in Berlin asked me more process questions: How was the social design project organized? How did the wiki figure into the writing of the book? What’s an unbook? and so on. The questions in London tended to be more about the efficacy of design patterns in general and the application of social design patterns.

At both sessions, certain attendees had reached out to me in advance over Twitter and proposed questions that they had a chance to ask at the events. In London and again in Berlin I was asked the perennial question about whether the use of design patterns stifles innovation. My traditional answer, “No. Now shut up and do your wireframes!” got a laugh in both settings as well. (My real answer: “Not if they are applied as guidelines and with sensitivity to context.”)

One other curious difference between the two events was that the audience in London had nearly perfect gender balance, whereas the one in Berlin was, by my estimate, about 90% male. I’d like to learn more about what the differences are between the web design and development communities in the two cities that might account for that variance.

I’d like to thank YDN for sponsoring the trip, and O’Reilly Media for providing logistical support (and some copies of the book to give away as rewards for great questions). Interested folks can see my slides on Slideshare:

Several attendees in London took great notes of my talk and published them on their blogs or personal websites, including Jeff Van Campen, Suw Charman-Anderson, Michael Mahemoff, and O’Reilly’s Craig Smith.

Image credit: Jeff Van Campen

via First we take London: The Social Pattern Detective in Europe (Yahoo! Developer Network Blog).

Your users are mental

· Design, Patterns, Social Design, User Experience, Yahoo!

[imageIn writing Designing Social, Erin and I wanted to include as many voices as possible and represent a wide variety of perspectives. We did this by stealing coopting curating many patterns and tropes already unearthed and documented by smart web people over the past decade and we also invited a large roster of brilliant web folk to contribute essays.

Bit by bit we are making sure all the essays are available online, either hosted on their authors’ blogs or personal websites or in some cases included in the project’s wiki.

Recently, my colleague Tom Hughes-Croucher reprinted his essay on your users’ mental models on his blog, and I think it’s worth reading even if you aren’t designing or developing (yet) in a social context. I love his first line: “One of the things I like about computers is their ability to create magic,” and – to me – the nut graf is here:

The Web is probably one of the least benign environments for a user on their computer and yet it is arguably the most successful computing platform. Using the Web there are numerous contextual or circumstantial errors than can occur, however the majority of users have no mental model with which to understand and recover from them.

…but “read the whole thing” as we used to say on the blogterwebs.

(image courtesy of Mary Harrsch)

New Presence patterns in the Yahoo! Pattern Library

· Design, Patterns, Social Design, User Experience, Yahoo!

presence-patterns-1

We just published two new social patterns in a new category, called Presence (under People), in the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library. The two patterns are Availability and Updates.

The Design Pattern Library is a collection of guidelines for the design of online interactions that can aid decision-making and guide the work of web developers and designers.

I’ve been studying the concept of “Presence” (often meaning remote presence – telepresences – or digitally mediated partial presence) for about five years now, with an eye toward a possible unbook on the subject some day, and I was able to flesh out a handful of presence patterns for the social patterns project and Yahoo! Press book.

These two patterns emerged from that process and carry within them the work of many Yahoos. The Availability pattern is derived from the work of ex-Yahoo Matte Scheinker and the Messenger team, and the Updates pattern leans heavily on the work of Barry Crane and the Vitality platform team.

It’s not always easy pairing social pattern with useful code examples or resources but with Updates I’m excited that we’re able to offer crosslinks to three relevant Yahoo! APIs (Updates, Meme, and MyBlogLog) and an emerging open Atom extension (Activity Streams).

Likewise, for Availability we’ve got a code link to the Yahoo! Status API.

via Presence, the new social pattern category (Yahoo! Developer Network Blog).