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Oakland, CA

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Nitpicky Academics and the Design of Social Software. Posted on 11/19/2002.

Anne has a smart and lengthy post on what are the appropriate models for considering sociality when designing social software. She emailed me, expressing some concern about the rather academic tone of the post, fearing that it was too nitpicky and might be considered irrelevant. Here was my reply to her:

Well, as someone for whom whose weblog serves as an outlet for academic
tendencies, I don't think it's that much of a problem.

First reaction: I'd love to see links to pages about some other cited
authors, etc., to provide context. As a non-academic, I recognize names, but
know little about them.

Second reaction: The Web is an amazing entity in part because it allows for
a fairly seamless bridging of academic and non-academic life. I revel in the
fact that when I'm researching a topic, often the best results come from
".edu", and that there is a host of material that I can slog through to
improve my understanding. It also encourages a dialog across the worlds,
because, well, smart people can't ignore each other, no matter where they
are speaking from.

Third reaction: Some of the crit theory stuff goes over my head, as I'm not
familiar with the source material. Once D&G were mentioned, my comprehension
factor dropped.

Fourth reaction: This is exactly the kind of feedback Mr. Shirky needs. I
tend to think he gets a lot of leeway because he's clearly smart, and good
at presenting his ideas. However, I think there are often flaws in his
thinking that, for some reason, people don't point out. Since he's a
professor, I think he would enjoy this post and its points.

Fifth reaction: I tend to think of sociality as a system. I tend to think of
anything sufficiently large and complex as a system. They can be really
messy systems, but systems all the same. If systems theory can address the
richness of biological evolution (and I think it can), then I think it can
address the richness of human interaction and sociability. It can't
necessarily define or describe it, but it can provide tools for

Sixth reaction: I've long had issue with the "controlling" nature of
information architecture. One of my first best talks was on "Adaptive
Information Architecture", on how we should let human behavior within an
information system drive the information architecture of that system as much
as any authorial control.

Seventh reaction: Make it easier for me. What does your postulating actually
suggest as a direction for moving forward? What are the design implications
of D&G? What is an evocative or performative technology? What use would it


I feel like explaining a bit more about the Clay Shirky comment. I've had the fortune of getting to know Clay, and he's a wicked smart and really good guy. When he writes, I listen. But I've noticed that people tend to accept Clay's writing with little criticism (except for his essay on weblogs, which did engender quite a bit of disagreement). I assume that 'cause Clay is a professor, he'd actually be welcoming of nitpicky criticisms of his theses, as this is pretty much how the academic field advances. In fact, I'm pretty sure he does welcome them, given the email exchange we had after I posted my comments on his weblog essay.

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