Monday, May 4, 2009

Erickson & Kellogg (2000) Social Translucence: An Approach to Designing Systems that Support Social Processes

So as part of my review of social psychology inspired analysis and design of online communities I have found that this appears to be a key paper that was cited by many of the ones I read recently. This paper contains the "window-in-door versus 'open this door slowly' sign" example for why 'social translucence' is effective. I've certainly heard about that concept before, so I've either read the paper some time ago, or more likely, someone in my research group has and told me about that concept. It certainly makes a lot of sense to me, and for the last few years I have viewed the doors in our office building very differently as a result. The key thing being that if you can see someone through the door and they can see you, you can avoid opening the door quickly to not hurt them, and even if you don't care about hurting them, you realise that they will see you if you do, and so you can be held accountable. Erickson and Kellogg describe three reasons for the effectiveness of this approach:
  • visibility - being able to hear/see the actions, and results of actions, of others
  • awareness - applying social rules
  • accountability - knowing that others are aware of what you are doing.
I am not sure that I can easily distinguish visibility and awareness; I guess the difference is between making something visible and what people do when they become aware of it. Another great example beyond the door one is about book chapter organization among 30 people in a room with chapters being moved around physical locations that are given section headings. Social translucence is distinguished from transparency, because not everything can be seen and heard, i.e. physical limits mean that no one can be everywhere at once seeing and hearing all the ongoing discussions about chapter/section organization, but they can see whether heated discussions are taking place in different areas of the room, and can thus act according to their interests.

After explaining social translucence the authors move on to talk about issues of social translucence in the field of knowledge management. The quote below nicely sums up my own concerns about the creation of knowledge databases.
The ability to say 'so-and-so said I ought to call,' was of great value to the accountants (and illustrates yet another function of accountability). Having a referral, however tenuous the connection, is a valuable social resource that can only be directly conveyed from one person to another: saying 'I found your name in the corporate knowledge database,' is not the same.
The authors then go on to describe a chat system they developed called 'Babble' (see diagram above), that includes a representation of the extent to which each participant is involved in the current conversation. Colored dots closer to the center of the circle are indicative of users who are more active in the conversation. There is another paper specifically on Babble adoption (Bradner et al., 1997), although it is not so clear to me how much the graphical representation designed to support social translucence influenced the software's use. The modern equivalent is Skype or Twitter, and many of the things said about Babble ring true for Skype chat, such as the danger of being waylayed. Twitter is another story in that it is less conversational.

For me I felt that the representation suffered because the colored dots had to be de-referenced against a list of users. Something similar but with the user's thumbnail or avatar as their representation might generate less cognitive load; and made me wonder if someone hadn't created something similar for twitter, which led me to find this list of twitter analysis tools. Although none of these represent the activity state of those you are following, which is what a babble like tool applied to twitter might do - I was wondering if any twitter clients might do something like this? I contacted a couple of twitter addicts and didn't immediately get any leads, although I subsequently found tweepular and mailana; both of which are extremely useful/interesting. The former giving great views on the mismatch of twitter friend/followers, and the latter displaying social networks based on how frequently you and your twitter friends have been messaging each other.

There was also discussion of critical mass in the Erickson & Kellogg paper which is something I have been interested in for a long time. It included a couple of references I should follow up on (Grudin 1988; Markus & Connolly, 1990), and I was struck that Nabeith referenced someone entirely different in his agents paper.

Another note about Erickson and Kellogg (2000) is that they refer to Alexander as part of the field of architecture design, but do not talk about design patterns explicitly; although they describe wanting to create abstractions that apply to digital media.

Original paper

Cited by 409 [ATGSATOP]

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