Ming the Mechanic:
More on Intimacy Gradients

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 More on Intimacy Gradients2004-08-30 23:20
8 comments
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On the subject of Intimacy Gradients in Social Software, Chris Allen expands the discussion with much good detail. Like, directly from the horses mouth, from A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander:
Pattern #127 - Intimacy Gradient:

Conflict: Unless the spaces in a building are arranged in a sequence which corresponds to their degrees of privateness, the visits made by strangers, friends, guests, clients, family, will always be a little awkward.

Resolution: Lay out the spaces of a building so that they create a sequence which begins with the entrance and the most public parts of the building, then leads into the slightly more private areas, and finally to the most private domains.
That's very lucid. But however much it makes sense for physical buildings, it might not be useful in the same way for online spaces. As I mentioned earlier, the ability to easily link deep into just about anything short-circuits any hope for a gradual build-up of intimacy, as one works oneself deeper into more private areas. If you can go there in one link it might not feel any more intimate than the places intended to be very public.

Adina Levin also returns with some new angles:
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.
And she mentions some of the things that might mark intimacy in online "places", like the presence of personal information, pictures, related sites, recent changes, and more. All stuff that elaborates the context, and makes the participants more real. But, hm, is that really intimacy? Maybe. Makes me think, at least...

Calling it "markers" reframes the discussion a bit. In a house, it is not a requirement that the private spaces REALLY are harder to get to than the public spaces. But the sequencing and the appearance of them being more hidden will make you feel like respecting the arrangement. If you really wanted to, you might very well crash in through the bedroom window faster than you could walk through the entry hall, the living room, and the bedroom door. But all those elements act as markers that tell you that it wouldn't be right, and most normal people respect that. We could say that the space and the walls and the sequencing of rooms merely are markers. Which hint at a certain meaning of that which they mark. Like an implied meaning of privacy or public-ness.

Now, the object is how to establish markers in online settings that will imply certain kinds of meaning to visitors, and inspire certain types of behavior. For example:

Is it an intimate place where one can talk more openly and feel safe doing so without being attacked? Or is it a public place where one naturally would have one's guards up a bit, and expect to be accosted by random strangers?

Is it a place where one can leave some things around, and expect to find them again when one comes back? Or is it a place where thieves and vandals are to be expected, so one shouldn't count on anything staying in place?

Is it a place of continued, sustained work, gradually progressing, so you can come and check on progress at regular intervals? Or is it a place that is in the moment, that you need to experience while you're there, and it might be totally different next time you come back?

It is a place that is owned, somebody's property, or is there at least somebody obviously on-duty, taking care of it? In that case you might expect that they'd quickly clean off any grafitti you leave, so it might not be worth the trouble. Or if the ownership is too vague, or nobody's taking care of it, maybe you'll expect you can get away with whatever you do there.

Does it seem to be a place where important and serious work gets done? Or something that is just to pass time, and of no real consequence?

I can think of markers that indicate these various things. But an instant wrench thrown into any such attempts is the possibility that some automatic spam bot will not care, and is able to post anything whatsoever to any page that has a form for submitting something. It is a bit like when you leave your cellphone on in the movie theatre. Somebody who doesn't know where they're calling might disturb the peace. But there are solutions to that, of course. You might require registration and login, or make people type in characters from a graphic. That's probably a problem that can be overcome. So, what kinds of markers apply to real people?

The picture and name of a caretaker of a page will easily mark that the page is being taken care of, and indicates that it probably isn't just a free-for-all. Example: an about.com page that has an owner/editor.

Indications of goals, rules, a time-line, milestones, accomplishments, outstanding issues, etc., will indicate that somebody is trying to do real work there. Example: a sourceforge open source programming project.

An indication of a page being your personal page, like your preferences or a My[Something] page will mark that only you can change it, and that it is safe to do so, and whatever you do will be the same when you come back. Example: your Ryze profile.

A requirement of registration, and a list of members of the group which is rather small will tend to indicate that the space is somewhat intimate and that one safely can talk openly. That is often false, as even known people might disagree with you and attack you, so those are not very good markers. That one is harder.

A blog will surprisingly often indicate a fairly intimate and safe space, at least for the owner, despite that usually anybody can post comments. Because there is one owner, and they are in control, and you get to know a lot about them, so you can fairly easily determine what it is safe to say to them. One marker is a large amount of fairly personal and consistent information.

As to group-oriented spaces, there are more difficulties. The best markers for whether it is a fairly safe and intimate place is probably a continous and coherent body of work over some time. I.e. the group has worked with a certain focus for some time, and you can see what has happened, and the tone people have communicated with. If there's then also a visible care-taker, and a required registration and visible member list, and some clear rules, even better. But if there's no focus, or the activity isn't consistent, or it isn't clear who's there, it is probably less safe and intimate. But that's all a little too fuzzy. Hard one.

Clearly, context needs to be visible to be able to ascertain how intimate the space is. How long has the space been here? Who's here? How long have they been here? How much have they contributed exactly here? What are they working on? Are they working together? What has been accomplished? Where is it? What is projected for the future? The more detail there is, the more consistent it is, and the more all participants are inter-connected with each other, the more intimate the space probably is.


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8 comments

31 Aug 2004 @ 00:04 by hgoodgame : What I see on the web
is still the old pattern of coming into an entry area, then the semi-private areas then the private. The difference on the web is that once you find for instance the private area you are interested in, you can metaphorically come in through the window into that space without trespassing, just like the various logs here on NCN. One can enter sequencially or directly into any space. :) Love the last paragraph, btw, it really brings all interaction into clarity.  


31 Aug 2004 @ 15:54 by QMAL @24.98.1.76 : cyberizing intimacy
If nature could design the online community and function formats, hmmmm I like these links, the savanna thing coupled to the architecture thing sounds reasonable to me. So If you can take that to blog / online communities that would most likely be the most intimate combination of gradients in my opinion. I struggle a lot with this topic in the 3d world with my place here, and interaction with others, so this intimacy gradient stuff has been real informative. :) And not just in cyber space 0-0
So I have more to learn than say about this (and in general around here), but it seems like the pattern language thing would be a key to developing and in as universal a direction as possible. Perhaps pattern feedback would also be an effective thing to integrate in the online architecture. I guess pattern being the universal communication language employed . Possibly some almost real time feedback tools to let the participant know if they are out side the intimacy bandwidth for a given zone. The easy to understand marker idea that also talks back. Perhaps the participants also need to sort of carry intimacy gradient with them, with markers and such , as well. I guess that is sort of going on here with the Ryze profile thing. After poking around here for a few weeks I think I am slowly sort of beginning to understand the people, premise and formats going on here, this being my first experience with the blog cyber medium and first blog I found( well I might just be a little thick). Understanding the people your communicating with is as important as the climate, to carrying your persona online , and how folks react to it ,equably. Self Tagging ,flagging, with profile and ambience( and other stuff?)- the user and the cyber space and getting these things to interact in some automated fashion to facilitate the "pattern communication".... So I suggest an... iconal transmission format where things like profile, emotion , conviction ratios,feelings and stance are communicated with some level of real time and integrity along with the intended micro-content, and then displayed with the micro-content . I guess some things like that are sort of going on in the instant text messaging world. We could each have a personalized automated icons that individualize us and display the unwritten stuff involved. Kind of an extension of persona and body language in a iconal format. Possibly the group areas could display an icon that represented the group and feeling of by poll posture and updated in as real a time as possible, or as it occurs. iconal transmission, feedback and interaction tools? mood rings for cyber space....Blending the shape of the door ways and spaces beyond / the shape of the participants cyber-image and their state/ and how all communicate and the language used. Could yield a more seem-less and low friction experience navigating the online community , since we have to leave most of the things we normally employ in the 3D world behind. like eye contact ,body language, thought transmission, etc, the normally employed communication tools that are para verbal. Ultimately getting those things cyberized directly in real time , eventually would greatly help programmers and users( Eye contact, body lang etc.) . Eventually thought transmission itself from cyber based devises might additionally clarify and help programmers/users adjust intimacy gradient. new interface tools could be created and come online soon(hopefully) that make intimacy gradient adjustment / planning /use easier.  



3 Sep 2004 @ 12:44 by ming : Cyberintimacy
Good suggestions. I think the fundamental thing is to communicate as much as possible the context and nature of what one is looking at. Of course, if one sees five doors, and they all look the same, one doesn't get a sense of which one is more intimate than the others. Just like bare links look pretty much the same. But if they're accompanied with other information that tells you what you're going into, you might more naturally develop a sense of what is appropriate in different places.  


3 Sep 2004 @ 17:57 by Niko Angelis @207.54.190.52 : cyber-non-space
Cyberspace is not a space. It is an allusion, an illusion; at best a flat and incomplete reflection of an infinitely complex world. We do not empower social interaction by reinventing technutopian filters, veils and substitutes for the most basic human need of social and physical contact. The world of books, of films, of the Internet, of art and the tools/products of a vast new technutopia, are mere projections of human intellect. The most potent portion of such crippled intellectual reality is experienced simply when it becomes and is consumed as spectacle.  


8 Sep 2004 @ 16:15 by Headshift @217.199.183.127 : Intimacy gradients online
[trackback]: Applying architectural theory to online social spaces could make them far more comfortable places, if only we can figure out how best to do it.  


24 Nov 2005 @ 05:27 by jonah @203.206.115.209 : 25 degree//13 th monky
you knoe the news ..so do we our troops are overseat hat they not side as a force to the side feared ,,why fear you love ..we know ..even fear to know too much but too who god gives this tom know or even to understand only love takes the time ..you know this ..anger is futile more need not die take that you need just dont destroy the infinite of love they really are..we can jai ..indeed even now do ..i do any way..we can jail our selves and throw ourselves inthe pit ..for this is free wil ..but you already all power what victory ..to rule slaves or rule to the well of free ..fearless ..loving free men/woeman
we have surrenered..you know our term..life  



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