Social Experience Design – lessons from tonight’s BayCHI Talk

i have to say the first talk was really really boring …  the speaker said, she has been working on this for a few months, and haven’t showed the study/results to anyone yet, at first i thought it was just she being polite, then i realized it’s actually true.

In strong comparison, the second one was extremely smart, funny and “quirky” to some extent…

Zhang’s a UW PhD dropout, and he’s interested in applying social components and dynamics (be careful, no “social theories”) here into design, and he calls it “Social Experience Design.” It sounds so so familiar with what the Social people whom i known have been doing, except for it’s so down to earth, and not academic journal or conference oriented. Zhang and his team doesn’t really care if their results’ gonna be published, or if it applies, modifies, renews or whatevers the existing social theories, all he cares is a grass root kind of “how/what can we learn from it, make it better, and make other things like this better.”

The social experience design he advocates is “grass-rootly” defined as:

“Designing the Social Interactions around a product/service”

“A distinct & separate field from Interaction Design”

“Designing for nuance, politeness, ambiguity, identity & privacy”

“Does not require an interactive technology”

(All his statement on social experience design actually sound pretty much like the mission of the social lab in Cornell :P)

One example he gave during the talk was, in the Q&A session of a lecture, usually, people who have questions would raise their hands. However, there are times when you want to comment on a previous note, and someone who raised his/her hand earlier than you, who gets to speak earlier than you, asked a totally different question, and shift the whole discussion to a different direction, so you feel there’s no need or impossible to continue discuss the previous question. Until, someone invented a new social protocol, which is, if you are trying to discuss a sub-question or a follow-up question, raise a finger, if a new topic, raise your hand. In that case, a new hand will be picked when all the fingers have been answered.

That, is really a brilliant idea, I’d say. If I’ll be a professor someday, that’ll definitely be the strategy I’ll use in graduate seminars… (yeah, i am not gonna let all undergraduates throw that many questions to me… LOL)

A couple of comparisons he raised about technical design vs. social technical design are:

technology vs. community

code vs. privacy

directly controllable vs. indirectly controlled

replicable vs. contextual

From his perspective,  static analysis (most traditional usability testing methods) is impossible for social technical system design, all analysis must be done in the context of use, and in terms of generalizability, you need to study constraints as opposed to artifacts.

Another interesting idea he proposes is that compared to “affordances” , there should be a sub-concept of social affordances, which many social media platforms have been offering us today. Each social media platform has its “audience”, “contexts”, “benefits” and “cost” which consist of its social affordances. Facebook has these, Twitter has these, BBS or even a blackboard has all these components.

The comparison between “Plaza” and “Warren” is something he find in his social experience design. Plaza’s a shared contiguous place, where every person interacts with every other person, pretty much like a chat room; It’s easy to start (since everybody’s in the same room), but hard to scale.  Warren on the other hand, is a more fragmented space, you can only interact with people around you. It’s like Facebook, even though Facebook has its millions of users, your Facebook world’s not growing that fast, cause you are only monitoring your friends. This kind of space is hard to start (that’s why so many social media start up died so fast…), but easy to scale, cause it’s basically close community.  Zhang thinks every social media platform has these two components, and Twitter is actually incorporating the two, in that, you can either use “Plaza” to listen what the world is talking about (pretty much browsing all real time tweets), or you can take a step back to warrens to listen to what your friends are saying, moreover, you can take half step back, which means, you input a key word, say “san francisco”, “bayCHI talk”, or something like that, then you get a limited plaza or an extended warren, you have access to filtered information according to your needs. I guess that’s a reasonable explanation for Twitter’s popularity today.

One audience in PARC asked, how are you different from anthropologists or ethnographic scholars ? Zhang said, they observe, i observe and change… Got a business card from him after the talk, and asked him one question… what do you think about CSCW… and his response was… i like things to move fast…

Yeah, cause he’s still young, and me 2…

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