Clay Shirky talks about how poor computer-user interfaces still are at helping us find ways of managing and moderating our social interaction.
And yet, when we poll users about what they actually do with their computers, some form of social interaction always tops the list […]. The practice of software design is shot through with computer-as-box assumptions, while our actual behavior is closer to computer-as-door, treating the
device as an entrance to a social space. We have grown quite adept at designing interfaces and interactions between computers and machines, but our social tools — the software the users actually use most often — remain badly misfit to their task. […]
The design gap between computer-as-box and computer-as-door persists because of a diminished conception of the user. The user of a piece of social software is not just a collection of individuals, but
a group. […] There are also behaviors that can only occur in groups, from consensus building to social climbing. And yet, despite these obvious differences between personal and social behaviors, we have very little design practice that treats the group as an entity to be designed for.
There is enormous value to be gotten in closing that gap, and it doesn’t require complicated new tools. It just requires new ways of looking at old problems. Indeed, much of the most important work in
social software has been technically simple but socially complex.
His piece goes on to talk about what social conventions (and the technological tools used to help enforce them) have developed around Internet-related interaction. (A nod to the Social Media Group for highlighting this and the Rubel articles. SMG has also posted a link to the recent Newsweek article on wikis and Wikipedia.)