Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software

We have grown quite adept at designing interfaces and interactions between computers and machines, but our social tools — the software the users actually use most often — remain badly misfit to their task. Social interactions are far more complex and unpredictable than human/computer interaction, and that unpredictability defeats classic user-centric design. As a result, tools used daily by tens of millions are either ignored as design challenges, or treated as if the only possible site of improvement is the user-to-tool interface.

First published November 5, 2004 on the “Networks, Economics, and Culture” mailing list.
from –
Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet
Economics & Culture, Media & Community

When we hear the word “software,” most of us think of things like Word, Powerpoint, or Photoshop, tools for individual users. These tools treat the computer as a box, a self-contained environment in which the user does things. Much of the current literature and practice of software design — feature requirements, UI design, usability testing — targets the individual user, functioning in isolation.

And yet, when we poll users about what they actually do with their computers, some form of social interaction always tops the list — conversation, collaboration, playing games, and so on. The practice of software design is shot through with computer-as-box assumptions, while our actual behavior is closer to computer-as-door, treating the device as an entrance to a social space.

We have grown quite adept at designing interfaces and interactions between computers and machines, but our social tools — the software the users actually use most often — remain badly misfit to their task. Social interactions are far more complex and unpredictable than human/computer interaction, and that unpredictability defeats classic user-centric design. As a result, tools used daily by tens of millions are either ignored as design challenges, or treated as if the only possible site of mprovement is the user-to-tool interface.
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