People Not Users

As we continue to spend more and more time online, both our relationships and self-identities are being increasingly tied up in websites. The companies running those sites, however, might not always have our best interests in mind. In this talk, Rachel will argue for a more human-centric approach to designing web experiences. She will explore the ways in which people invest themselves online, the obligations companies should feel towards those investments, and offer solutions for treating users a bit more like people.

Slide of “Httpster” shirt – gotta love that. Rachel has just launched gifpop, a service that lets you create physical objects from animated gifs.

Rachel spends a lot of time on the internet – shows graphic of heirarchy of needs with a massive “internet” at the base – now spending times in spaces specifically designed for her (or feel like it)… so she will be talking about some spaces that work well and not so well.

Have to start with a mention of Facebook – it’s simply massive… and Facebook’s engineers/designers have made significant choices about how you can present yourself. Zuckerberg has said in an interview (“The Facebook Effect”) the days of having a different image for your work friends and your other friends are coming to an end… which is actually huge because it’s not how we really work as humans. We tend to act differently in different contexts; and have different identities over the years as we change.

Compare our proscribed self vs our elastic self.

Think about the different ways you might present yourself to a room full of strangers… or even WDS itself, where you know what you are talking about so you might be more open, more confident. This might not translate to other areas of your life.

Facebook requires you to present a single, unified identity through time to all the people from different phases of your life. Your coworkers and childhood friends will see the same stream. This creates a pressure, consciously or not, to “fit” the new content you are posting in with the old, existing content. There’s an expectation of consistency, regardless of whether you yourself are still the same.

Other services allow for multiple expressions of self – simply allowing you to have separate content for separate purposes. An Xiao compares facebook to “the small town you never left” and tumblr as a big city where you can go to a different bar every night and try out a different aspect of your personality.

Still other services allow for a more fluid, changing expression of self. Snapchat was originally just a 1-1, timebombed photo sharing service. When people asked for a “send all” option, the creators felt this was against the core idea of Snapchat. But they did put in “stories” which is a public 24-hour stream. This temporary profile broke the usual requirement to fit new content into the context of the old. Your identity, your profile, is fluid rather than fixed.

This quickly gets to the privacy debate. Zuckerberg has famously said “The age of privacy is over.” Which is interesting for a service that was very private for the first few years of its life; and has slowly turned into a sort of Whack A Mole game chasing privacy settings around.

Twitter… since IPO there has been a little more visibility about pushes (in the past) to open all twitter communications. One of the founders wanted to phase out direct/private messages and publicise everything. This idea has been reeled back in the run to IPO when it became clear there may be some value to having private messaging.

Http:// – a screenshot of someone’s aunt asking for them to email the photos they’d shared on path… “I don’t have a smartphone… can you email them to me?”

There are problems being open. Relationships can change: someone’s “most contacted” data may include abusive ex-partners. It may be accurate according to data, but not a reflection of the relationships you now have. The past persists in data, in ways that don’t help us.

Instrumentation was added to planes via mandate, because they avoided serious safety problems. But the instrumentation of the web does not necessarily have a positive effect for users. Staring at stats can dissociate people from other people – their users.

The digital duality…

Classic New Yorker cartoon – “on the internet nobody knows you are a dog”…

There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty about whether we are making ourselves stupid, or anyway worse, by being online and using technology. It’s easy to conclude that online is less valuable, or can’t have a positive effect. But in truth our online and offline friendships influence each other, they build and change each other.

“Who remembers these?” – big screen of punctuation-only smileys, emoticons. Then we have emoji and even reaction gifs which can express extremes of emotion. Reaction gifs let people tell their friends exactly what kind of excited they are.

We eventually must arrive at….. the selfie. There’s so much hate for selfies, but people certainly react to them! One of the creators of Vine had to be convinced that selfies weren’t just vanity; that it was a personal way to share an experience. Also we shouldn’t forget that humans are hardwired to respond to faces.

Then there’s a fear that we are posting ever-smaller pieces of content; and that diminishes us and our attention spans. But the content we create for long or short form is usually for a different audience, with a different context.

There is different context on twitter vs. a long letter you might have written, or a long blog post that has to fill in all the context to make sense. Short form contexts like twitter are more like hanging out with a group of friends every day. You can refer to recent events without having to explicitly spell it all out again. The shorter messages are part of a broader set of information.

In general the form of communication may be changing, but what we’re trying to say, what we’re trying do remains the same. We want to share experiences with the people in our lives; and technology is just a way to share that faster and more easily. As bandwidth increases, so does the level of rich content that we can casually share.

Concept of third places – Ray Oldenburg.

  • First places are your home (private)
  • Second places are school/work (public)
  • Third places are the spaces in between like coffee shops, parks (where you can be with friends AND interact with strangers).

Often the use of third places has to evolve with the people using them – although you can put in a design, users will have their own ideas. This is how twitter ended up with at-replies and retweets.

Richard Serra created a piece “Tilted Arc” which bisected a public space and made it harder to use. It sparked a huge fight as it had effectively taken away a public space – although he argued art isn’t meant to be pleasing, it had been taken out of a more private space (a gallery) and put into a public space that people wanted to continue using in a certain way. Parks, public spaces, have all been designed – someone made conscious decisions how they should be built.

We are the architects of online spaces. We need to make the world that we want to live in.