August 30 2009
So, the alternative might be to not have complicated and forced privacy and sharing settings, but rather to structure things so that the right things naturally tend to happen in the right places, and the right things tend to be seen by the right people? I'm all for it.
I've often thought about it, for that matter. A problem is that the hyperlinking nature of the web short-circuits a lot of what works in architecture, which is what Patrick Jost of Melbourne is working on.
In a house, different sorts of activities naturally happen in different places. That is in part based on how deep into the house those places are. The entrance hallway is easily accessible and has a number of doors. Good place to say hello and share general messages, but it is superficial. One can go further into the house, into the living room, which is more sheltered, and have a deeper conversation there. The bedroom is a step further, and feels more intimate, as it takes several steps to get there. Now, there might not be anything that physically hinders some guest from storming straight into the bedroom without being invited there, and start looking through the closets. But everybody will notice that it doesn't feel right, and will deal with it somehow. And it rarely happens in normal homes. You start in the entry hall, and if you sort of pass that test, somebody will take you further into the house, and for most people it doesn't feel right to overstep the norms for how one behaves in somebody's house.
But a website tends to have the equivalent of links that say "entry hall", "living room", "kitchen", "bedroom", all appearing at the same level. And with Google's help, there will also be direct links to "bedroom closet" and "the reading material next to my bed". Which sort of kills the gradients of intimacy.
The problem is that parts of the net aren't working as much as *spaces* as we think they might have. It is really just a lot of information. And we'd like direct access to information, with deep linking, without anything annoying standing in the way, like having to register.
Doesn't mean we can't re-invent *spaces* as a parallel effort. To get to certain spaces, to hang out with certain people, it is acceptable enough if I need to jump through some hoops to get there. I don't know how to design those spaces so it feels natural, but that is potentially solvable.
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. So a hierarchical structure of links doesn't do it. On the web you can't force people to accept your hierarchy if it is all just links.
One thought is that the spaces that need to be more intimate should not have permanent locations, but rather a dynamic location. E.g. if I wanted a certain type of conversation with certain people, I might have to go through those people and get their agreement that they're up for such an interaction with me today. Rather than me linking directly into it. Even if we had a very similar conversation yesterday.