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Interaction Design, Social Computing & Urban Planning

There are striking parallels in designing for social computing and creating living space, both starts with an interactive experience. Can those two fields cross-fertilize each other?

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Written by DeletedUser

In this video Tom Erickson, a veteran designer for IBM and Apple, talks about how urban planning has influenced his thinking about social computing platforms. In particular he refers to Jane Jacobs' influential book " The Life and Death of Great American Cities". The core principle is to design for interaction, for example to create opportunities for people to strike up conversations with strangers. 

I find these principles, while rather theoretical and high level, an intriguing perspective and I wonder whether the field of social computing could not also feed back to urban planning. Can we apply some of what we have learnt about online communities apply to actual cities? Can online communities be a starting point to (re-)build real world communities? Can the virtual world supplement the real one in meaningful ways to achieve vibrancy? 


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This is a Very interesting interview, I think you raise very important questions. I also agree with Anne regarding the increasing hybrid nature of our everyday interactions., I think that striking up conversations with strangers is definetley something that makes a city more vibrant and happy in general, most people are convinced that some places are just innapropriate to talk to strangers or just way to ackward to do so, maybe the reason is that these places havenĀ“t been designed for interaction and need to be aided by virtual applications?
For example, my roomate believes that it is easier and more comfortable to talk to a stranger when drinking, sadly enough this understanding is very well spread across teenagers and american culture (broadly and subjectively speaking here), the root for this belief I think is the fact that alcohol makes people lose self conciousness. Also it is interesting to see that long lasting relations usually develop after having fun with a person, this makes me think that we drink to have fun so that we can build relations. Alcohol aka less vulnerability + interaction= long lasting relationships and fun hahaha, My point being that maybe we could insert a new element into this formula that reduces vulnerability, promotes interaction and results in fun and stronger networks this in turn strengthening sense of belonging ?
Thanks for that great video

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Interesting question Chris. It is even more interesting if you think that interaction researchers like Erickson have often been influenced by the notion of pattern language developed by the architect Alexander:

As for the relationship between the "virtual world" and the real world, rather than having one supplementing the other, I would argue that they are intertwined and that increasingly spaces are hybrid...
There is I agree some things to learn from online communities and virtual spaces but one has to remember that "true", vibrant online communities are only a few of many "bulletin boards" type of communities. It's just that we speak less of these empty online spaces...

thanks again for starting this conversation.

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Yes, thanks, I meant to include a reference to Alexander's pattern concept, its been increasingly influential in interaction design.

Alexander has written at length about what makes spaces good for people to live and interact in - as he struggled to find an appropriate name he coined the expression of the "quality without a name" which he argues some spaces possess and others don't. I think this is really what we are thinking about here.

Photo of Arjan Tupan

I think designing for interaction, or in a broader sense, designing for activity maybe, is very important. I'm thinking of some of the bicycle related inspirations, for that. Designing the city's infrastructure to promote use of bicycles can be an important factor. And finding inspiration in other fields, like social computing, is a very good idea. Maybe also looking at things like community management and successful implementation strategies are things we can learn from for this challenge.

Photo of Ashley Jablow

Really nice provocations here Chris. Thanks so much for sharing!