social networks and
James Boardwell 13/09/07
I’m talking about
• social networks
• experience design
• thoughts on “the museum”
For the most part I’m not going to refer to gaming.. because well, there’s not enough time
but this is possibly the most interesting area for exploration. Next time!
An elite ﬁghting unit <cough>
We are Rattle and we do Research and Development around digital media, focusing on
experience design, which is a bit of a fuzzy area but basically means researching what
engages people and then designing and building prototypes to test. This work ranges from
information design [BBC] to developing radical content strategies for broadcasters and
independents to enterprise social software to help businesses share knowledge.
We’ve only been going 6 mths and we’re based in shefield.
aren’t you sick of them already?
We hear a lot about quot;social networksquot; in an era when social more and values in these quot;liquid timesquot; [Z Bauman] seem under
Is it just a moniker, a neologism that's now a rather meaningless metaphor for a Douglas Coupland generation who are
'lost' or is it a more profound change affecting the basis of how we interact and behave?
who? what? where?
when? how? why?
I’m going to look at social networks from the simple journalistic process: who, what, where,
when, how and why? I like its simplicity.
Tim Berners Lee
image of his initial website
In many ways Tim Berners-Lee invented social networks. Html enabled simple relationships
in a distributed medium. What he didn’t oer was a semantic wrapper for deﬁning the
relationship - that took work. But usenet groups were fostered around early web
technologies and they did allow semantic richness - name, group, title etc. and can be seen
as the pre-cursor to what we now call “social networks”.
Every web 2.0 brand seems to be a “social network”. How many can you spot? How many do
you recognise?! But as the use of the term proliferates, the actual sense of what “social
networks” ‘are’ gets ever vaguer. It’s a bit of an empty metaphor; everything is social.
What matters is in what way is something “social” and how does it manifest itself?
Familiar? The ability to deﬁne friends, what they see, add to groups and have dierent
means through which to engage and communicate with people. Poke, the very physical
acknowledgment of ‘knowing’ someone, of friendship is probably the best example but there
are now a proliferation of others.
As Facebook grows it will be interesting to see how friends’ networks scale. How do you
manage dierent ‘types’ of friends? How do you manage a meaningful relationship with
more than say, thirty people? What would a second tier of relationships look like? We all
have a second and probably a third tier but exposing stark social distinctions just wouldn’t
feel comfortable. This is the very sociality of Facebook. It’s stu we already do ofline
reasonably well but online exposes our social rules as clunky, awkward decisions.
MySpace, a space which has more recently been colonised by bands, organisations and
brands to have an online identity [how many ofline tactical / brand ads do you now see with
a myspace url?].
MySpace deﬁnes your contacts as “friends”, itself a very loaded term and is public and
doesn’t allow you manage your relationships in any other way that through comments, which
often take the form of testimonials or “thank yous” for reciprocal linking. It’s less
sophisticated than Facebook, just as “social” but socially dierent and that matters... And it’s
this very unsophisticated sociality that has appealed to many corporations etc. They can
manage their template, their visual identity, but they don’t have to work too hard at their
sociality, at being social, which is just as well because they’re not that good at it. And they’re
not that good at it because their a multiplicity, they’re many people and it takes work to
cohere a consistent identity. Look at any brand and the work that goes into making that feel
You know this.
The ability to deﬁne things amongst a crowd allows you to ﬁnd similar relationships around
keywords and their uris / urls. Value is dependent upon our “selﬁsh acts”, a desire to
bookmark so we can ﬁnd things again later. Collectively our selﬁshness creates wisdom. Of
course some people are stupid and don’t tag [really!!] and tag in a very random manner but
for the most part the system is self-organising because it’s based on a simple human trait to
tag well so you can ﬁnd again.
The cumulative behaviour creates interesting views e.g. popular.
This can of course be gamed if there is some vested interest in doing so. Technical solutions
to gaming fail. Social one’s win out. This is important when thinking about design.
Flickr is a master of sociality and of dierent ‘views’. But what is often overlooked when you
here people talk about ﬂickr is the social nature of images themselves; we live in a visually
I just like this photo. Photo’s do that don’t they? They’re emotive, potent signiﬁers. But
they’re also highly interpretive. This could be a parody of machismo but it equally could be a
mannequin and a truck. Indeed it is a mannequin and a truck.
But there are other reasons for looking at the ﬂickr “product page”. It’s interesting how Flickr
are adapting the metadata around the object, the image. Cameras are now a key way to ﬁnd
content and sort data. Cameras are also highly social, this is a picture site after all. People
cohere around cameras, the materiality of them matters; they’re more than tools, they are the
physical embodiment of the art. What you took your photo with matters as much as the
photo to many people. This is a nuanced and relatively sophisticated sociality. But it’s not
just cameras of course. Groups are a fantastic way to create social value around an image or
set of images. Groups oer a way for people to perform rule based behaviour [taking the
photo; assigning the photo and tagging it appropriately] and also perform to a group psyche,
of the values that the group embody... we could talk all day about ﬂickr.
Lastfm. Another great medium, music [although the cover art is often just as important...]
Lastfm tries really hard to emulate the types of social interaction you see on ﬂickr, facebook
etc. However, aside from providing a neat way to see what other are listening too, they;ve
struggled to cohere people in the way that other social networks have. The ambient nature of
the archiving may be one issue [via scrobbler]. It’s all a bit easy. And they make mistakes [no
bad thing] they implemented a feature to allow pro users to see who last viewed their page.
However, it felt rather socially awkward; the inequality of view belonged to a Foucauldian
Panoptican, the observer and observed.
Last also has more general social network ‘eects’. Anecdotally people I know who use it
again start to perform socially. They present a “mask” of themselves [Goman] and
consciously listen to particular types of music, genres and individual bands to play out that
identity. And certain group mavens drive this activity [from broadcast scale groups like Zane
Lowe on Radio 1 to ofice peer groups]; the spectre of “cumulative advantage” is never far
away source: Duncan J. Watts http://tinyurl.com/yraayd
Twitter involves a similar group dynamic to the one just mentioned on last.fm, in that it’s
humble call to action “what are you doing now” becomes a performance of the banal,
sometimes in the form of slang, shorthand or obscure reference. It certainly does amongst my
peers anyway. It’s a “performative space” and all the more so because the rules are so simple
and well deﬁned: 140 characters, you, now. That sort of speciﬁcity leaves room for creative
endeavor, indeed it kinda demands creative endeavor, in the way that lastfm [and input most
“social networks here] doesn’t. The beauty is in its simplicity [even in the call for it to be used
as a command line API].
To be honest I don’t use dopplr a lot. I don’t travel much. It’s more aspirational for me, that
and seeing where people I know go and which conferences their speaking at etc. In fact no
other social network serves to position me so starkly, so uncontrollably as dopplr. The
physical demand to travel [and dopplr is primarily for international travel] is itself such a
major action that the frequency to make this habitual means it’s audience is niche. But niche
is good. It taps in to a philosophy about the web generally which I like and ws neatly
expressed by Matt Jones their Chief Design Chap [CCC] at Reboot07 this year where he said
and I paraphrase [and probably get it all wrong] that “they design for a particular function
rather than to create a platform for all travelers. The platform for them is the web itself”. I
like that. Technically it’s not easy to achieve, making dopplr plug into the web-at-large, but
it’s laudable and humble and good. To perhaps make sense of it if facebook is the coee
shop, the starbucks, then dopplr is the cafetiere.
In terms of the sociality of the service though, it’s too early for me to say. It’ll be interesting
to watch emergent behaviour er... emerge.
Allows us to fulﬁll social roles some of which are only ever
performed online some of which are reinforced ofﬂine
Social networks don’t exist in a bubble. Sociality on the web, indeed in any medium, is
intrinsically entwined with all other aspects of our lives.
What’s happening now however is that we’re seeing the tail wagging the dog, we’re seeing
some online behaviour take root ofline.... but more of that later.
falling off the back of
this is the notion of
there are 4 basic
types of social declining
This slide is pretty self-explanatory. Some mediums have their own “aordance”, their own
inbuilt form of communication which all sounds a bit Marshall McLuhan doesn’t it? It
probably is. I don’t know what to think about that so let’s move on.
schools / insitutions
on the move - embodied
Where are social networks. I kinda hope that I’ve expressed this already. They’re everywhere.
It’s really unhelpful to perceive of social networks as being just online. The online
performance, the online ‘act’ is best perceived as a moment within a social life. That sounds
rubbish. But what I mean is that the online act is a punctuation in a more complex and and
ofline existence. For example, the vernacular I mentioned earlier, the visual cues pulled in
from other activities and narrative genres such as games, horror, comedy etc. [and you can
see these in many of the avatars people choose for themselves] are a part of what I’m trying
to articulate. And I think one of the reasons I’m strugling to articulate it is because it is so
often invisible, the glue that holds us, narratives, references, language together can be fragile
and invisible. You’ve got to look hard for it.
On a more general level though, social networks are in very physical spaces, organisational
cultures etc which each have their own rules: schools [in which we’ve done some work...
elaborate]; ofices [Taylorist principles of time/motion and accountability vs. new service
economy] and the home itself... social networks play out dierently in all these spaces
because we ourselves play out dierently their too: context matters.
Example of trying to bring social media to drive engagement with travel. I like this and when I
tried it it felt like I did actually get back the text from some scruy kid at the back of the bus;
it was banal yet aggressive...
What is this showing? It’s showing that social networks are now distributed across time and
space and are often quite transient and ephemeral. They don’t have to be permanent. The
act can be akin to mumbling under your breath as you commute to work. And that act has its
own driver and dynamic and the shape of that social network, this social network of this bus
company, will have its own shape because of that.
social dynamics dictate use...
Facebook is built into our workﬂow. Email updates harangue us [most of us] into reactive
readership. You can see why Facebook seems to be popular throughout the day. And why
companies are banning it.
Flickr is slightly dierent. It isn’t nominally built into our workﬂow in the same way. It’s less
reactive as an environment. It’s often highly pro-active; to ﬁnd; to upload; to ‘wilf’ or
Biggest issue aecting use is not technical - it is social
1% rule can be misleading....
Facebook and Twitter get far more involvement because they are asking for a dierent type
of performance - not essentially “public”, but “semi-private”, banal stu mostly amongst
people you already know. They’re a dierent type of performance from say, publishing a
blog post or writing in a messageboard thread. A host of factors aect the sociality here and
hence the type of publishing you get which I’ll mention in a minute. But ﬁrst look at the
the desire to perform
and sometimes for base human needs of relating to others
Essentially to see out our everyday needs and desires and explore new ones...
And social networks provide another space for those needs to play out.
I like this image because it’s one of the those everyday images that says a lot about how the
o and online worlds are colliding. It’s a small act but quite a profound one.
Why should we care?
wisdom of the crowds - james surewecki’s story of a submarine that went missing and
experts were unable to place it accurately and yet bu opening up the details of last positions
and currents etc. to the wider world the submarine’s location was accurately mapped and
subsequently found. It’s a powerful story.
But just as the crowd found the answer here there is another prevailing theory that the crowd
is dumb and that individuals but *lots* of individuals acting out of their own self-interest is
the more powerful model. This is termed wikinomics. There’s a tale told by Dan Tapscott in
his book wikinomics all about a Gold Mining company that was broke that basically started to
use the crowd as it’s scientiﬁc arm and those with solutions were paid for their answers,
handsomely; the company’s value has gone from $100m to $9bn as it’s drilling success rate
And then there’s recommending and ﬁltering in the long tail more generally. But you know
Products! or blogjects or.. whatever...
Things, products, balloons are increasingly wired to the web-brain. The internet is really all
around us and that’s set to change the way we interact with things and with each other.
The nabaztag is probably the most obvious and commercial sign of this to date.
But RFID and Qcodes are doing something ina far less productised way by enabling
companies to identify artefacts [bits of information- parcel, letters etc.] and associate it with
other things [time; driver; address etc.]. This ability to make relationships between things
and to know the relationships between things and change them wherever you are sounds so
fucking uninspiring but is I think as profound a change to our everyday lives as we will
witness outside the realm of bio-technology. I’m excited by it.
Conceiving of sociality:
source: matt locke test.org.uk
So having said that “social networks” need to be explained socially to be understood we need
to ﬁnd ways to do that that we can make sense of. And you know, for all the buzz around
“social networks” there really isn’t a lot of thinking going on about *how* we do that. There
are numerous ways to characterise our use of the internet yet there are relatively few really
Matt Locke [test.org.uk] has recently proposed a set of spaces for thinking through “social
media / networks” which start to make sense of the behaviours of users and the nature of the
mediums that I alluded to in talking about Facebook and Flickr etc. He proposes 6 spaces:
secret: - IM / sms - often using private ref and slang or code - absolute privacy and control -
group: - peer ID, competition, shared ref points [e.g. band] - e.g. facebook
publishing: showcasing outside of a group - public; control the context of creative work -
feedback - measures [ﬂickr; youtube; livejournal / blogs?]
performing - playing a role within game structure where teamwork needed to achieve a goal
MMORPGs; some ﬂickr groups
Participation spaces: co-ordinating lots of individual acts to achieve joint goal
mysociety; upcoming groups; charity eorts etc.
watching spaces: TV; cinema; theatre etc. linear viewing - as a spectacle
I include this here because I think it really helps us to think through social networks not as
objects and phenomenon but as living eects.
• Privacy - Data use
• Rights management
• Making the web work as a platform: Open
Creative commons - helping with rights but as google know with youtube it’s messy - you
have to give in the hope you receive. It’s a new business model for many and the rules are
So having talked a little about the “social” in “social networks”, how do we think about
actually designing “social” things that work, that really engage people?
There’s a broad ﬁeld called “experience design”; I don’t really see it as a discipline.. we kinda
all do it from organising weddings and parties to curating exhibitions at museums ;-)
What’s interesting now is how we can create experiences that cross time and space amongst
dierent audiences using digital and distributed media...
adaptive design is a
The Tower of Babel is an instructive fable. “Build it and they will come” is still with us!
Latour  argued that “technology is just the social made durable”. Technology is
basically a machine of social associations, values, assumptions and agreements. I like that
view and it serves as a pointer in terms of design. Build things socially and the technology
will come, focus on the experience ﬁrst and NOT the technology.
Here are some experiences that I like:
nike run london - image
Nike’s Run London campaign and service. It works. Why?
1. It ﬁts with their brand mantra “just do it”
2. It’s embodied - you do it!
3. You inscribe yourself on a social space - map - which is distributed and editable; it’s a
summation of your embodiment and everyone else who’s participated. Your blood, sweat and
blisters are etched here.
4. Others do the same - cumulative beneﬁt
This is an exampleof what has been called a “product-service-system”.
The iPod experience is of course all the tangible and visceral things people say the IPod is but
fundamentally it’s the promise of a service connection, a plug to music that made the
concept so attractive to many.
Product / Service proposition. One of the best.
ipod image source: http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/dantaylor/58703002/
key fob ﬁt for purpose
A humble yet very thoughtful piece of product design which ﬁts with the brand “every little
There is no template
Like i said this is not a science or a discipline. [Some] Marketing people tend to be good at it.
They understand that you do whatever it takes to engage people.
I ﬁnd ﬁve “ﬁlters” help
to design services and
Brand. A brand should be a distillation of the relationship the business has with it’s market.
It sets the parameters for the experience. Does it “ﬁt” with what we want to do, with who
“we” are and what our proposition “is”?
2. Human “Norms”
Things that are hard wired, psychologically programmed e.g. Matt Webb’s book “Mind Hacks”
is a great help here.
And things that are learnt behavioural norms, etiquette, such as queuing etc. and other
behaviours that are far more contextual and negotiated such as kissing, shaking hands, etc.
These are psychological and physical factors, some are global [animalistic] whilst some are
culturally distinct [more local].
this is where design patterns come in...
this is why websites have left navs and
why the ipod thumb-wheel works
is t e
Nokiahknow this: user
is their key USP
How you deliver the product, how it’s wrapped and managed as a form of engagement, from
amazon afiliate shops [fantastically well managed] to Moo.com and their position as
interlocutors between brands and people, ofline and online.
I’ve been grappling with this one a little bit... i don’t like it but i can’t ﬁnd a better way to
express it. it’s basically understanding both the environment and the issues that we’re faced
with when designing experiences, how we’re connected and to what. Ordinarily, this may be
called “context” but I don’t ﬁnd the word context useful, too much is assumed and too much
escapes; we create contexts constantly.
e.g. CPA: continual partial
“Continuous partial attention” the scourge of our internet always-on society and ads
everywhere [something like 1500 ads a day!!]. Continuously being distracted from tasks, our
attention shifting. Some research has suggested teens are far better at multitasking because
of their digital media use - gaming whilst watching TV etc; we’re learning as a species to
adapt to being “always on”.
e.g. “risk society”
e.g. paradox of choice
Risk society - sense that we’re now taking on more risks that were once the responsibility of
the state or of extended family [care, pensions, health, jobs etc.]. This is producing what
some commentators call an “anxiety society” full of moral panics around ASBOs / crime,
environmental disaster etc. and of course a rise in stress and depression related illnesses.
The Paradox of Choice is that we feel out of control in many situations where we have
unlimited [or seemingly unlimited, we can only manage to hold a limited number of things in
our head at any one time] choice.
We need to take these issues and issues like these on board when we’re thinking about
experiences, to understand all sorts of associations and provide services, products or content
that helps to manage such issues e.g. in the case of choice, curating content [editorialising] or
providing suitable recommendations around content.
5. Product or Artefact
I want to talk a little bit about the product or artefact now. This is an interesting area
especially as materials are now increasingly connected, as we saw earlier. Matt Webb talks
about products in the age of the internet as well as anyone.
This is a souvenir. Research we have done recently has shown how the artefact, the material
stands in for experiences, serves to communicate memories, love, loss, fun etc... but in a
highly personal way. It has empathy.
It’s not dissimilar from the way in which iPods come with the same inbuilt sense of values,
expectations, both from how other people communicate their use of the product, how it is
communicated through advertising and marketing. Scarcity can be important in maintaining
these values, oversupply devalues the experience in terms of product [but can serve to
increase value where “critical mass” is important e.g. in Facebook which is a proxy for a
What are the properties of the “thing” itself? Donald Norman is useful here... “the design of
everyday things” in which he talks of “aordances”, the way materials and products have a
certain “will”... [bus shelter windows being broken and replaced with “writeable” plywood
etc.]. And this links strongly with the writing of those in “social study of science and
technology” or STS [see http://tinyurl.com/28e5s5]
Industrial designers understand aordance. In designing experiences we too need to think of
the relationship that people have with materials and their design as they do engender certain
behaviour which is hard-wired. The classic example here is the push-pull door handles.
Ignore the wording, the very design dictates use yet how many times have your seen doors
that get this wrong, where the door is confused?
Artefacts are created for certain tasks and experiences. When these tasks or the artefact
becomes redundant you need to adapt. Producers are becoming increasingly good at
building in obsolescence into their designs [e.g. computer hardware, fashion where we’re
almost on a weekly cycle of trends now, gaming and narrative progression].
What is interesting in an age of Peak Oil and environmental crises and is how the obsolete
materials get “recycled” and “re-used”. Developing nations are better at this than us. Jan
Chipchase has documented the South Asian market in ﬁxing, mending and recycling products
to extend their life. For them it’s a functional necessity as these goods are hugely expensive.
In the developed world we have adaptation and recycling as more craft based, as a “hardware
hacking” movement [see image].
We can learn a lot from comics and narrative structures, about “pace”, “structure”, “timing”
etc. This image is culled from Scott McCloud’s book “Understanding Comics” one of the most
insightful books I’ve read on interaction design. This particular point he’s making rings true
for a lot of experience design for me... engaging people isn’t about swamping people with
actions, tasks, and ﬂashing lights!
Helping people to get lost enables the use of all their senses. Perhaps this is the same as
Scott McCloud’s comic panels?
What would these spaces look like? how would you create experiences for getting lost? could
“Not to ﬁnd one’s way in a city may be
uninteresting and banal. It requires
ignorance - nothing more. But to lose
oneself in a city - as one loses oneself in a
forest - that calls for quite a different
schooling” walter benjamin
From the book “A ﬁeld guide to getting lost” by Rebecca Solnit. I think of the notion of
“getting lost” is an interesting one especially in relation to the Museum and artefacts that
have essentially been found and where the signiﬁer [subject] and signiﬁed [object] are clearly
signposted, actually helping people to lose themselves and pull up the semiotic anchors is
perhaps a fruitful one.
• image of supermarket
So we’ve seen that products have certain emotional connections, aordances, ﬂows. How do
these things come together?
We can see how products invoke certain emotional responses and drivers in the classic work
of Danny Miller [Shopping]. He describes how the ordinary supermarket shop becomes an act
of love for the Wife, Mother, or Partner. The products themselves are an association to the
role of the mother and her love in choosing and paying for the items, or the time invested in
thinking about what is required.
Supermarkets know this. They’re spaces of seduction. And they have clever means to manage
• lighting to control blink rate and visual awareness
• pacing of products to produce either lots of space
• ﬂow: changing gondola positions, width of aisles etc. all create a perception of space and
change the pace of use accordingly
• memory: through changing aisles and products to make us ‘lose ourselves’ and forget our
ID Magasin are the business that specialise in creating these retail spaces.
• behavioral norms
• product / artifact
so to re-cap.
Having talked about ﬁlters for making the complexity of the world simpler and help think
through appropriate experience design, what are the tools that help to actually design
Identify user needs and
ethnography; participatory design
and participatory observation
I guess this is more familiar territory.
You need insight into the ﬁlters described and this is where research is essential. Your
experiences, your ideas and your values are not those of your audience. I’d argue that
“material research” is the most fruitful approach for designing new services and experiences,
but that’s not always so. The walkman came out of a belief and nothing more.
You can also use task analysis, focus groups and interviews depending on the brief and the
budget, but nothing beats actually engaging with the people you are designing for and
observing critically how they interact with the world around them. Jane Fulton Suri’s book
“Thoughtless Acts” is a good guide here and Flickr is a fantastic resource.
Then you produce schematics which represent the
experience and how needs / tasks are met
Designing experiences needs documentation in order to make the concepts transferable and
durable. Persona’s can help. User journeys’ can also be helpful although they tend to be
functionally driven and it’s important to bring in some of the issues around aordance,
emotion, space and narrative...
implications for new
Finding, giving meaning to - taxonomical structures, hoarding and closing down.
We still all do this - think of the child’s toy box or a diary where items are put etc. think of
the favourites track on your iPod. The desire to limit and close down is still all powerful.
Now we are in an era that concerns itself with deconstructing, dis-locating and opening out.
The museum is ill suited to this task for no other reason than it goes against its role of
deﬁning and conserving and re-presenting.
Perhaps there is still a role, an increased role, for this purpose in our anxiety ridden world
where people want some deﬁnition [cf. Wikipedia] and certainty. But the delivery of the service
must still recognise the ﬁlters described above to produce appropriate experiences.
As informal learning blends with entertainment where are
The distributed museum
imagine this is a
with a science
exhibit in reception
How could we engage with audiences? What can the web teach us about being distributed?
What could a distributed museum look like?
what is the role of the
artifact now it is a
How would we track it, trace it, and see its provenance?
image of thinglink
Thinglink looks to tackle this issue. It provides a means through which to have a social RDF.
For subject-relationship-object to be deﬁned but to be deﬁned temporally so it can change
over time. This captures provenance, the history of the things around us and our relationship
with them. Conceptually its cool. But the human overhead is too great to make is work en
mass. We need some form of ambient [cf. machine tag based] recording and documentation.
What a cool thing that would be for museums to do; to record our relationships with the
things around us.