Social software design tips

I recommend a really insightful article in The Best Software Writing (I) by Clay Shirky entitled A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy (April 2003) which takes good look at the design of social software in its widest sense - in other words any form of virtual community or collaboration system. Clay shares, from practical hard-earned experience, three things we must accept and four things we must design for if we want to create systems which are actually useful.

The article should be read in full but here are the bullet points to whet your appetite.


Three Things to Accept

  1. You cannot completely separate technical and social issues - the two are intimately linked and affect each other
  2. Members are different than users - there will always be a sub-group of users who care more than the rest of the group as a whole – the core group. This fits with the idea of member rings
  3. The core group has rights that trump individual rights in some situations – at times user "democratic votes" and core group concerns will be in conflict and the core group concerns must take precedence. For example, the wrong kind of 'good useability' just encourages SPAM postings. This raises the important issues of decision-making, governance and stakeholders rights/obligations


Four Things to Design For

  1. The first thing you would design for is identities the user can invest in

  2. The second thing you have to design for is a way for there to be members in good standing - the minimal way is, that posts appear with identity

  3. The third thing is that you need barriers to participation - you have to have some cost to either join or participate or the system will be abused

  4. Finally you have to find a way to spare the group from the negative effects of scale which can destroy all intimacy and community


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