New Civilization News: Intimacy Gradient in Social Software    
 Intimacy Gradient in Social Software5 comments
picture 14 Jun 2004 @ 18:29, by Flemming Funch

Adina Levin, part of the SocialText team, talks about Chris Alexander's patterns that relate to levels of intimacy, and how that might apply to social software:
Alexander writes about an "intimacy gradient". There are some areas in a house that are public -- the front porch; areas that are indoors and public -- the living room; and areas that are indoors and more private -- bedrooms and bathrooms.

The design opportunity is to create livable, workable, more-public and more-private spaces, using a "social software method" that focuses on helping people connect and collaborate with people in the least restrictive, most appropriately trusting way.

This is a different design philosophy than the traditional methods for setting levels of privacy. The underlying traditional assumption is that information should be available, and users should have privileges, on a "need to know basis." Individuals should have as little information and as few privileges as they need to do their jobs.

The goal of a tool for group work is to be able to restrict access with as much control as possible. Content and privileges should be controllable at a highly granular level. A work process should be clearly defined, to determine what users should have access to what information, and a given stage of a process.

This methods depend on a highly-structured, formal process. Analysts and administrators need to carefully define the types of information, to parcel out privileges, and to be able to monitor information access.
So, the alternative might be to not have complicated and forced privacy and sharing settings, but rather to structure things so that the right things naturally tend to happen in the right places, and the right things tend to be seen by the right people? I'm all for it.

I've often thought about it, for that matter. A problem is that the hyperlinking nature of the web short-circuits a lot of what works in architecture, which is Chris Alexander's field.

In a house, different sorts of activities naturally happen in different places. That is in part based on how deep into the house those places are. The entrance hallway is easily accessible and has a number of doors. Good place to say hello and share general messages, but it is superficial. One can go further into the house, into the living room, which is more sheltered, and have a deeper conversation there. The bedroom is a step further, and feels more intimate, as it takes several steps to get there. Now, there might not be anything that physically hinders some guest from storming straight into the bedroom without being invited there, and start looking through the closets. But everybody will notice that it doesn't feel right, and will deal with it somehow. And it rarely happens in normal homes. You start in the entry hall, and if you sort of pass that test, somebody will take you further into the house, and for most people it doesn't feel right to overstep the norms for how one behaves in somebody's house.

But a website tends to have the equivalent of links that say "entry hall", "living room", "kitchen", "bedroom", all appearing at the same level. And with Google's help, there will also be direct links to "bedroom closet" and "the reading material next to my bed". Which sort of kills the gradients of intimacy.

The problem is that parts of the net aren't working as much as *spaces* as we think they might have. It is really just a lot of information. And we'd like direct access to information, with deep linking, without anything annoying standing in the way, like having to register.

Doesn't mean we can't re-invent *spaces* as a parallel effort. To get to certain spaces, to hang out with certain people, it is acceptable enough if I need to jump through some hoops to get there. I don't know how to design those spaces so it feels natural, but that is potentially solvable.

As long as a certain chat room or wiki page is accessible directly with a deep link, it is going to be very hard to make it feel more intimate than any other place I can reach with similar ease. So a hierarchical structure of links doesn't do it. On the web you can't force people to accept your hierarchy if it is all just links.

One thought is that the spaces that need to be more intimate should not have permanent locations, but rather a dynamic location. E.g. if I wanted a certain type of conversation with certain people, I might have to go through those people and get their agreement that they're up for such an interaction with me today. Rather than me linking directly into it. Even if we had a very similar conversation yesterday.

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15 Jun 2004 @ 16:26 by ming : Patterns
It is not clear what the patterns will be. Yeah, I trust too that interesting things will happen. But in part from the disruptive change of somebody invented some more things which are obvious and maybe simple, but which nobody quite saw that way before.  

15 Jun 2004 @ 16:27 by maxtobin : Access and rights
I dont know yet quite how this works in the 'Blogging world' BUT it brings to mind a concept developed in a content management tool I was involved with where the criteria was access to content and permissions to alter that (mainly for intranet info sharing within a company structure). Maybe similar to this context in that we have to accept the structure and 'standards' of how the web works. So we get used to living in public spaces and there are different levels of permission. Kind of like the function here Ming where we can have our log open to the public or to members only for reading and for commenting. Or have I completely missed the point?  

15 Jun 2004 @ 17:21 by ming : The Point
Well, the point is that there possibly might be other, more natural ways of arranging different levels of intimacy. Rather than specifically assigning rights or no-rights to a certain piece of information, as to who can see it and who can't, one might instead simply put it in the kind of place where the people one means it for are likely to come, and a place where the people one doesn't mean it for are unlikely to come, even if they aren't actually blocked from going there.

It is kind of like the debate or conflict that is happening right now between the music industry and its customers. The music publishers are pushing for DRM (Digital Rights Management) which would mean that they would control exactly what you're allowed to do with a piece of music or a film. How many times you can copy it, how many times you can play it, how much time before it self-destructs, which kinds of devices you're allowed to play it on, etc. They think it is the only thing that makes sense. But the rest of the world thinks it severely restricts use and creativity. Because one can't quite predict exactly what people are going to want to do, so it would be easier for everybody if things flowed fairly naturally.

So the idea is that by the way things are laid out, one might accomplish much of the same thing: different levels of access. But without the downsides. And with design and feng shui more than with locks and keys. If you live on top of a mountain, there's not going to be as much riff-raff coming by as if you live in the middle of the city. Not that you physically hinder anybody from dropping by, but the location changes what is likely to happen.  

17 Jun 2004 @ 06:04 by maxtobin : Ahhh indeed!!
Nothing like a little wind and water and the dragons and tigers to sort things out!! You also get to throw rocks at others more easily when you live on top of the mountain!! Ask the Swiss about that one, they have maintained their position by being able to retreat to the mountains for a natural defence.  

27 Aug 2004 @ 08:55 by ming : Intimacy Gradients
Great post! And thanks for the reminder that I need to finish my trackback features.  

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