More on Intimacy Gradient

Chris Allen adds to the discussion of the intimacy gradient, design patterns that support different levels of privacy and access.
Chris muses that “the need to provide for an Intimacy Gradient in social software is clear; however, the techniques for showing the transitions between the gradients are not.” Chris quotes Fleming Funch about how links can’t signify levels of intimacy. “As long as a certain chat room or Wiki page is accessible directly with a deep link, it is going to be very hard to make it feel more intimate than any other place I can reach with similar ease.”
I suspect that the design principles for intimacy gradient are going to be different online than in 3d, and efforts to mirror 3d privacy patterns literally will be ineffective, just as interfaces mimicking 3d stores and offices don’t work.
In 3d, the markers of privacy relate to
* property markers: my lawn vs. public sidewalk and street
* physical access: door and gate; bedrooms in back or upstairs
* visual and auditory access: conversation areas around a corner, with an insulating wall.
These design patterns designate ownership/membership, and different levels of physical access.
Online, there are different design patterns for signifying intimacy. Physical interference is less of a problem, while social accessibility takes some consideration.
Groupforming is a distinctive property of the online intimacy gradient. Decent software design makes it trivially easy to create a new private space – no contractors or sawdust needed.
We’re evolving new conventions for showing group membership and “ownership”, even in publicly accessible areas.
* in more intimate spaces, like small-group chatrooms, and livejournal comments, names and pictures are reminders of the small community.
* in shared spaces, it’s good to be able to share pictures and music (which oughta be legal).
Online, we need better tools for vistas, entryways, and entrances.
For example, a technorati sidebar of related discussion shows the vista surrounding the private home or small community on blog.
The “recent changes” in a wiki provides this window for cogniscenti — you can see what folks have been thinking about lately.
The “jibot” on the #joiito IRC channel announces visitors with a few words of background. This creates a social protocol where newcomers are expected to introduce themselves, and there’s a bit of banter where the social tone is established.
Forum portals try to do this with snippets of high-volume conversations or high-rated posts. For experienced community members, portals can help reduce overload and highlight hot topics. But these busy streetscapes can be cluttered, overwhelming, and discouraging for newcomers.
More inviting, I think, is the style on PerlMonks, where the home page consists of selected questions and responses, and deeper sections include discussion, tutorials, reviews, and reference material.
What the jibot and PerlMonks conventions have in common are ways of gradually entering a conversation. Well-designed entranceways are social as much as they are architectural. They provide ways for people to meet others and introduce themselves, and get involved in more extended conversation and deeper collaboration over time.

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