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- In Loops, synchronous cues for a given conversation are provided by a social proxy, a minimalist graphical representation of users which depicts their presence and their activities vis à vis the conversation. This social proxy portrays the conversation as a large circle, and the participants as colored dots, referred to, hereafter, as marbles. Marbles within the circle are involved in the conversation being viewed; marbles outside the circle represent those who are logged on but are in other conversations. The marbles of those who are active in the current conversation, either contributing or 'listening' (that is, interacting with the conversation window via clicks and mouse movements) are shown near the circle's center; with inactivity marbles drift out to the periphery. When people leave the current conversation their marbles move outside the circle; when they enter the conversation, their marbles move into the circle.
- Although simple, this social proxy gives a sense of the size of the audience, the amount of conversational activity, as well as indicating whether people are gathering or dispersing, and who it is that is coming and going. Also, because the portrayal is visual, it has a perceptual directness (like the glass window) that a list of written names lacks. Experientially, the social proxy is interesting because it focuses attention on the group as a whole, and the coherence (or lack thereof) of its activity.
A similar (non-graphical) SocialProxy could be effected in a wiki: see RecentUsers.
More social proxy ideas are found in Erickson & Kellogg, [Social Translucence: Using Minimalist Visualizations of Social Activity to Support Collective Interaction] (the paper is not recommended unless you are particularly interested). Here is a list of them:
- The RoomSocialProxy? (they call it the "cookie proxy", but I don't like that name)
- The LectureSocialProxy?
- The AuctionSocialProxy?
- The QueueSocialProxy?
and there is also the idea of a ConversationTimeline?
The group has produced a new program based on the same idea (they called the first one "Babble", and they call this one "Loops", although they are both part of the "Loops" project).
There is also this 2-page paper: [Designing Visualizations of Social Activity: Six Claims] (recommended). The six claims are:
- Everyone sees the same thing
- Portray actions, not interpretations
- Social visualizations should allow deception
- Support micro/macro readings (whenever possible, a social visualization should be built up out of many small components which persist)
- Ambiguity is useful: suggest rather than inform
- It is OK to distort activity, to magnify small amounts of activity, and to dampen large amounts of activity; for example, it is much more important for users to be able to tell whether there are 3 or 7 people present, than whether there are 103 and or 107 present. Ideally, the ambiguity of the visualization should be clear to users.
- Use a third-person point of view (a social visualization should show its users their own activity as others would see it).
[Inhabiting the virtual city: The design of social environments for electronic communities] by [Judith S. Donath] (Director of the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Lab)
- The goal of this work is to develop an approach to the design of on-line social environments. My thesis is that, in order to foster the development of vibrant and viable online communities, the environment - i.e. the technical infrastructure and user interface - must provide the means to communicate social cues and information: the participants must be able to perceive the social patterns of activity and affiliation and the community must be able to evolve a fluid and subtle cultural vocabulary.
- The theoretical foundation for the research is drawn from traditional studies of society and culture and from observations of contemporary on-line systems. Starting with an analysis of the fundamental differences between real and virtual societies - most notably, the presence and absence of the body - the first section examines the ways social cues are communicated in the real world, discusses the limits imposed on on-line communities due to their mediated and bodiless nature, and explores directions that virtual societies can take that are impossible for physical ones.
- These ideas form the basis for the main part of the thesis, a design platform for creating sociable virtual environments. The focus of the discussion is on the analysis of a set of implemented design experiments that explore three areas of the platform: the visual representations of social phenomena, the role of information spaces as contexts for communication, and the presentation of self in the virtual world.
Popping the URL to the author's home page reveals a treasure trove of online community stuff...
- Visualizing the crowds at a web site
- Visualizing Conversations
- Identity and Deception in the Virtual Community
- Visual Who
- Sociable Information Spaces
- Casual Collaboration
A program by JudithDonath's group that is based on the SocialProxy idea is ChatCircles.