Regular readers to this blog will have noticed a bit of a hiatus over recent weeks with respect of blog post quality and quantity.
Travel, work and more travel has turned my brain to Swiss cheese, resulting in a general lack of coherent thought.
If you haven’t read it, you really should (you really should subscribe to her blog too).
If you work for Fox Interactive Media, well, you really ought to think about commissioning some work from her me thinks (she’ll be dr danah soon btw).
Anyway, here are some points, views and observations:
danah on why the MySpace experience works
danah includes an interesting section of her essay: “It’s not about technological perfection”.
To greatly paraphrase what she has to say, in essence she pitches the point that websites don’t necessarily need to be the most easy-to-use, accessible, bug free propositions possible. Having a barrier to entry, or a learning curve perhaps, creates “sub-cultural capital”.
danah puts it like this:
“Often, people don’t need simplicity – they want to feel proud of themselves for figuring something out; they want to feel the joy of exploration. This is the difference between tasks that people are required to do and social life. Social life isn’t about the easy way to do something – it’s about making meaning out of practice, about finding your own way.”
This part of the essay threw me to begin with. I’m a massive advocate of user-centric design, and in reality that usually means a KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) approach where everything is designed, tested, honed, re-tested and re-honed for it’s accessibility, usability and ease of use.
What danah was putting forward totally flies in the face of the design principles I believe it.
But then it became clear. This is about the difference between task-orientated experiences verses what I can only describe as a ‘hanging out’ experience (danah, please give me a term of this!). There’s a difference between interacting with a site to order your groceries to be delivered to your home and interacting with a site for entertainment and engagement. It’s like visiting a shop vs visiting an art gallery. (Interestingly in all of this examples the former is generally a linear experience and the latter a non-linear/random experience).
So what danah is saying is that this is about the journey. In the case of MySpace, it’s about how you got to the point of having these cool profiles with whizzy music streams and neat CSS tricks, etc. It’s about how you discover cool people to call ‘a friend’ and how you discover all this information about each other.
Having to do a bit of work to obtain this data gives the user a bit of social status that they have earned.
Conversely the goal of buying my food shopping online is not about the user experience, it’s solely about the man coming to my door between 7pm and 8pm on Thursday night with my monthly supply of juice, etc. With that in mind, the user experience wants to be as simple as possible as it’s not the point of using the site (ie, this is where the orthodox KISS approach is warranted).
danah on the future of MySpace
If MySpace falters in the next 1-2 years, it will be because of this moral panic. Before all of you competitors get motivated to exacerbate the moral panic, think again.
If the moral panic over MySpace succeeds and causes a change in law (which it is looking like it will), everyone invested in social technologies will lose. In other words, stop celebrating the crisis and get off your asses and engage.
Sure – the concern around sexual predators using MySpace to discover children to groom is a valid concern – in that it certainly could be used to achieve this abhorrent goal.
But it’s also worth noting that there isn’t a great deal of evidence to suggest that is happening to any significant degree. There’s a lot of media hype around the potential for problems, but many of the recent stories about children going missing ‘who also had MySpace accounts’ seemed to reach a conclusion that didn’t involve the site whatsoever.
What we need to do is put it all into perspective: the quantitive assessment of the numbers of paedophile cases verses the numbers of happy users, and the qualitative assessment of the degree of predatory problem verses the social benefit the site achieves.
There will always be problems in any system, but it’s about putting them into perspective.
If people want to place predatory concerns upon MySpace then they need to extrapolate their concerns to the rest of the Internet.
Peer 2 peer technology must be an absolute God-send in the eyes of the paedophile community. Here we have a technology that has been unintentionally designed to perfection to facilitate the sharing of despicable images and videos of children. The technology does this in a way that not only is fast and efficient but also goes a very long way to protect their identity from the authorities.
But when the media address the issues of p2p, how often to we hear these concerns with this kind of usage? Very rarely. Instead we hear a lot about how big companies are (it is claimed) loosing a lot of money from the piracy of their albums, tv programmes and movies.
Grokster was shut down because of piracy, not because of paedophilia.
Let’s extrapolate further still – the whole Internet has the potential to facilitate paedophiles.
Chat rooms and IM networks not only have the potential to put paedophiles in contact with children but are also totally private and secretive environments which make it nearly impossible for parents to monitor.
Forums and message boards on child-friendly topics have the potential to be used subversively by those with repulsive interests.
Online games with a social angle, such as The Sims are popular with children and could easily be exploited. Even not-so-social online games such as Counter Strike, Half Life have the possibility.
Are we saying that the whole Internet should be shut down because nearly every service upon it has the potential to do harm? No.
So why focus on MySpace? At the end of the day, the only thing it’s guilty of is being transparent with where potential abuses could occur, unlike IM, p2p and other propositions where the potential for abuse is hidden from the surface but just as apparent on the inside.
For me, the whole MySpace thing demonstrates the need for parental supervision and responsibility. If we had more parental supervision, more parental responsibility, then these issues wouldn’t arise.
I can imagine danah possibly having concerns with too much supervision restricting teen’s self-expression. “Peadophila aside, teens would not be able to express themselves naturally with their parents monitoring everything they say”, or something along those lines
My response would be supervision and the demonstration of online responsibility from an early age would set up a child with the maturity to use a service like MySpace on their own by the time they came of age to be interested in it.
For me, MySpace is a tool just like a kitchen knife is a tool.
There comes a point in most children’s lives where they want to start using kitchen knifes – to assist in the preparation of dinner, etc. At that point responsible parents teach them how to handle a knife properly and the dangers that go with it. Even then close supervision is applied to ensure that dangerous situations don’t occur.
Over time a trust develops as the child demonstrates responsibility whilst using the tool, and the parent needs to supervise the child less and less. As the child grows older there comes a point where the child can be trusted to use the tool appropriately on their own without any supervision whatsoever.
Well, for me, the paradigm crosses over from kitchen knives to MySpace, and most other Internet services like it (IM, email, IRC chat, online games, etc).
* = I respectfully refer to danah without capitalisation of her name, as explained here.