To borg or not to borg - individual vs collective, Gavin Bell fowa08
To borg or not to borg
Individual vs Collective
FOWA, London 2008
About user interfaces 2
about user interfaces and human interaction in small groups
Not about the borg 3
Not really here to talk about Star Trek
Machine interfaces 4
We’ve been developing interfaces to computers for a long time
And have come a long way from machine level interactions on a bit panel
Man machine interfaces 5
We migrated to terminals and “man machine interfaces” which then gave way to
Human machine interfaces 6
Human machine interfaces,
now we are thinking about the person in front of the keyboard
rather than the internal processes of the machine
No longer just individuals 7
We’ve ended up with powerful tools which help us to do amazing things from
Games to photoshop to presentations to desktop publishing and a myriad of other things
Now with the range of web and social web applications we are creating
I think we are moving beyond health care / word processing / spreadsheets
Beyond using computers as tools for an individual to do tasks for themselves
Nor audiences 8
I don’t mean million plus audiences either
There is a lot of research into mass audiences in advertising or television
It is not that useful for software design,
If you cater to everyone you end up with every feature they want
A problem that Microsoft have in spades with Word or with Windows
Each feature has hundreds of people with vested interests in it staying
Audiences are also anonymous
About friends 9
The social web is about people, relatively small groups of people,
A few hundred for the most part
These are my friends
You don’t know them,
but that is ok, they are my friends
There are hundreds of web apps that understand I have social relationships
Should the means of creating these apps be the same that create single user software like a
Beyond messaging 10
You might be thinking that email or im are quite social
but they are task focused tools around having a conversation
Quite goal orientated, they generally have a recognisable end point for each task
What common tools do we use to ﬁgure out what the interface should be?
User centred design is popular, well established
UCD draws heavily on task and goal directed thinking, focusing on the individual
Cognitive models from psychology where the foundation of the approach
Analyse the user, determine their needs,
build a system which satisﬁes the needs / goals they have
Use personas to ensure designer bias is removed.
There is good evidence to support this.
Excellent for many problems
Well deﬁned tools, good documentation and good case studies
But if done thoroughly it can be time consuming
Fits less well with an agile development style
Also very focused on the individual
Persona of Borg? 15
http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Image:LocutusOfBorg2367.jpg (fair use)
But when confronted with the vastness of the social web, I feel it gets out of its own depth
The pretext of individual goals and tasks runs out of steam,
On many sites there is a well deﬁned goal, but on social sites it is less concrete
For example - dopplr, ﬂickr and twitter are less goal driven.
I feel UCD has led us astray with its focus on personal activities
We focus on what the individual should be doing, what are their short term goals.
We can miss out on the social interactions, those things that happen between two people
We can also miss out on individual character too, if we treat the world as represented by 2/3
Add as friend? 16
I’m going to look at one aspect of social networks
Do we really join social networks to make or add friends?
Friend is an unhelpful term.
I might care about your activity, but friend is not the right term.
It leads to unhelpful distinctions between friend / family and contact
It is the activity we are interested in, not stating and restating personal relationship.
I want to see your pictures
Collect them all? 17
It takes some people down very unhelpful paths
Anti patterns 18
Evils like the anti pattern exist because of this perceived need for friending, which from the
developer pov brings in more users.
This one comes around again and again
Loopt, E, Spokeo, Plaxo
My name is E (above) took this a stage further and used the login details for twitter to post
content on behalf of the person, without their knowledge. After a storm of protest they
dropped the feature.
Oauth solves this technically, but we still have the restating of friendships
Privacy is hard to do well, I regard it as an unsolved problem
One to one privacy is straight forward.
Selective privacy is harder
The public group works for well for shared resources eg a Flickr group
Pownce is a good example for more selective sharing
2nd wave HCI 20
I’m not suggesting we throw out UCD entirely,
just that we need tools which take social interaction into account
Human Computer Interaction is a broad discipline of which interaction design,
information architecture and usability form part.
In the mid 80s a new set of research methods came to the fore
Information architecture was extended by UCD over the last few years
UCD serves us well,
But largely focused on the individual and personal goals.
Time for something new?
Russian Revolution 23
1917, Russia is in revolution
Karl Marx 24
Karl Marx’s economic theories are changing a country
Lev Vygotsky 25
And Lev Vygotsky is throwing out the bourgeois psychology of Freud et al
Activity theory is the area he deﬁned and a lot of childhood development ideas
he added socially meaningful activity to the models of consciousness current at the time
He saw this kind of activity as the generator of consciousness.
Stimulus response and psychoanalytic models were popular at the time
Essentially all human activity is social in nature and by engaging in this activity we are
changed by it
An activity is composed of a subject, and an object, mediated by a tool, (counting, writing,
Cognitive approaches focus on the person, Activity theory focuses on the activity
Aleksei Leontiev 26
His colleague Aleksei Leontiev extends his work ...
Adding in ideas around heirarchical nature of work
(driving becomes automatic over time)
Adding in a third level capturing motive.
Activity --> motives | Action --> goal | Operation --> conditions
Separating individual actions from collective actions
The canonical example is the beater on a hunt,
Individually they are hitting bushes, collectively they are taking part in a hunt.
Q which bit of ﬂickr is individual and which collective
ISBN - 0-262-11298-1
Activity theory 27
60 seconds on activity theory
Diquot; ers from activity centred design, not low level tasks
Respectful of context
People are social,
Little we do is not social in nature
consciousness is deﬁned by activity
We are changed by this activity
This is a complex theory, but I’m very excited by it and its potential for the social web
The book is recommended reading
excerpt available from
How might activity theory help
Makes you think about the high level tasks people are doing in the real world and their social
Dopplr - sharing trips
Last.fm - sharing listening
A lot of these work as they are passive activities
Verbs acting on objects, very rest like in nature
Now that you are all reeling in the bolshevik nostalgia, lets look at another group worthy of
The I don’t have broadband crowd, the hinternet, don’t worry there is a point to this diversion
Danny O’Brian’s phrase so I discovered.
25% of AOL revenue comes from
Service charges in 2007/8
People still on dialup!
People in developing world too
They are the people who help make yahoo.com the number one page on the internet
They share email addresses, they are not avid users of the web
There are a lot of them
They are hamstrung by operating systems and email programs
The idea of having multiple accounts on the same machine or even multiple accounts for
their email is not in their world view
For them the machine has an email address, they don’t feel they have an identity on the web
Not geeks 33
They are deﬁnitely not geeks, I’m not knocking these people at all
This is a strength for them, they care about the internet as a service.
It is like the phone network or TV, they care not how it works, just that it works.
We do, but we pay 400 quid to come and listen to people like me.
We write code, plan applications, buy domain names
Are these two worlds reconcilable?
The geeks and the rest of them
I think they need to be,
that other group of people are parents, sons and friends, it is more than an age thing.
should they be shut out of our digital lives?
So what is going on here? 35
Design evolves, as shown earlier
UCD can be very useful,
Activity Theory shows a diquot; erent approach, one more in tune with social interaction
We do have diquot; erent worlds to cater for,
the ultra-connected geek and everyone else.
Addressing this means rethinking how we make applications.
In fact it is a social story of technology adoption
RSS Adoption 36
RSS is a good example,
In !99 RSS was tech hot, but it took until 2006 to become “evenly distributed” and embedded
Why is this signiﬁcant, RSS was the ﬁrst major change to web browsing behaviour.
Technology adoption takes a long time.
There are many people even now who have no idea what RSS is, but they can understand a web feed in GReader, or
netvibes or a macosx widget. This is a good thing
See http://www.slideshare.net/mickstravellin/universal-mccann-international-social-media-research-wave-3 for detailed
research on web adoption and demographics.
RSS has also given us a bad habit.
We care about the most recent 15 items, something that happened last week is old
We even have an expression “internet time”
How can we gain value from the endless stream of data
What should an activity feed look like from six months ago
I’d argue that it is not the same as the one for today.
Reduce to the signiﬁcant actions and interactions.
Take a long now perspective on data.
What does a person look like aggregated over time.
(read Stuart Brand’s Clock of the long now, if you haven’t yet)
Identiﬁers for people - openid
Places - geotagging and ﬁre eagle
Isbn, music tags all help in passively building a digital picture of the world
We routinely embed this kind of data in web pages, urls and feeds
However it works best as a passive process.
I would not have actively told last.fm about the 10,000 tracks I’ve listened to
Context is important, the verb, listen, in last.fm is implicit
Similarly for ﬁre eagle
These identiﬁers turn the stuquot; in our lives into social objects.
What we are making and what the web is becoming is blurring
Desktop web applications can offer better perceived affordances than running a web app in the browser
Eg the unread mail count on MailPlane, the bouncing from Pyro etc
Ajax and AIR muddy the water, then add in widgets, embedded webkit or prism, ﬂuid or weave and it isnquot;t clear what is being
made other than something that can render information from the internet on a screen
Marsedit and blogging apps - which bits are on the web
MacosX widgets - delivery status
Devices that measure power consumption and put it on the web
Initiaitives like Fluid show this desire for a clear and simple approach to making the web easier to use
It changes the experience to one of not using the “web”, Iquot;m reading my email or reading campﬁre - the task changes and
A version of Fluid holding basecamp has become essential for me.
What the web comprises is changing, we are moving back to the internet and the web as part of this.
Humans not servers 40
We are starting to build the world in terms of people
Rel=me microformats help
Moving from machines and rss to social objects and verb-based interactions
Social objects 41
Some recent things and events in my life, we could have a conversation around each one of
There was a goal in mind for each of these, but is there a goal in the ongoing social
The coincidentiality of these objects can be worth a lot, we need to think in terms of the
social life of each object, prior and post action. There can also be multiple actions eg
recommendation, purchase, listen, lend
Jyri Engeström - social objects
Matt Jones - coincidentiality
Dan Hill - social life of a broadcast
Design for the individual 42
Do support the individual,
people need a useful service / activity to attract them to your product
Support the social 43
Think hard about the potential interactions around your social objects, what are the verbs
that draw / bind people together
Activity theory will help you survey this space
Scaffolding is a useful psychological concept and the last one to leave you with, as a concept for the
It comes from developmental psychology and is the process we use to learn hard things.
Two apples and three apples makes how many apples.
Remember that, well that is a scaffold,
Iquot;ve just taken away the scaffold.
In terms of technology adoption we need to scaffold the rest of the non-geek population to get them
into our world of social objects. Flickr guest pass is a good example of this.
Look beyond UCD
Interactions between people
People as composites
Three suggestions 45
Look beyond designing for individuals
What are the motives for people using your site, what connects them to other people
Our proﬁles online are starting to connect together, there are many data points about
someone who comes to you, Google Social API tells you a lot about someone.