The computer as a door.

I found this interesting article on the design constraints of social software. Right from the beginning it is fun…

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.

It goes on to describe and suggest social software art projects…

Jonah Brucker-Cohen’s Bumplist stands out as an experiment in experimenting the social aspect of mailing lists. Bumplist, whose motto is “an email community for the determined”, is a mailing list for 6 people, which anyone can join. When the 7th user joins, the first is bumped and, if they want to be back on, must re-join, bumping the second user, ad infinitum. (As of this writing, Bumplist is at 87,414 subscribes and 81,796 re-subscribes.) Bumplist’s goal is more polemic than practical; Brucker-Cohen describes it as a re-examination of the culture and rules of mailing lists. However, it is a vivid illustration of the ways simple changes to well-understood software can produce radically different social effects.

You could easily imagine many such experiments. What would it take, for example, to design a mailing list that was flame-retardant? Once you stop regarding all users as isolated actors, a number of possibilities appear. You could institute induced lag, where, once a user contributed 5 posts in the space of an hour, a cumulative 10 minute delay would be added to each subsequent post. Every post would be delivered eventually, but it would retard the rapid-reply nature of flame wars, introducing a cooling off period for the most vociferous participants.

This seems like a very interesting field of new media art, what I would like to see is projects that are slightly less text centered and take advantage of vocal buildups of social networks.

via the best software essays of 2004

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