Social Computing

This post is based on my thoughts over the social computing concept based on the write up mentioned by Thomas Erikson on Interaction Design Foundation.
Social Computing

The paper describes about the very principles on which  social and collaborative computing thrive.  The researchers elaborate this by giving examples of systems from Amazon, that use the concepts of Computer-Supported Cooperative Work to keep an edge in business, to systems like ESP Game and Wikipedia which are systems completely designed on these principles.

Humans are by nature social beings. Interacting with their communities, colleagues, loved ones and acquaintances. These interactions grow them as individuals and add to the beauty of their daily routine. Social computing relates to these daily online interactions that we do using the digital systems. Social interactions include interactions with not only the people we know but also with the people we do not know. For e.g. buying and selling of goods using auction sites is one example of social interactions that our done with the users we do not know.  The concept of social computing was put a long time ago in the 1960s. The implementation of the concepts came up in the early 1970s, after over a decade. With the growing interest and the introduction of Web, in the early 1990s the digital systems came to be used more than just for social interaction. They started using computers to analyze social interactions and come up with results that further were fed into the system to process and develop newer functionality for the users. This decade gave rise to algorithms that changed the phase of social computing.The Pagerank algorithm was one good example of an efficient way of finding the write content in the pool of user data. Another good example is where Amazon improvised the feature of product reviews by letting users add content in different fashion and brilliantly managed to find an edge over its competitors.

Purely social computing systems have a set of requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to make them efficient and usable. They are:
1.Computation: Finding a set of algorithms that carry out the desired interactions.

2.Recruiting and Motivating: The system has to make sure users are lured to contribute to the system and are motivated to come back to the system frequently in a span of time.

3.Identity and Sociability: The system should let users have their own identity in the system and make sure that they have enough people to interact with.

4. Directing and Focusing activity: The systems should be able to focus user attention and channelize it.

5. Monitoring and Controlling Quality: As there are good aspects to human nature, there are bad ones two.These systems need to be monitored for frauds. As the system get smarter the human ability to find loopholes moves faster too. These system need to be constantly monitored for preventing such occurrences and to maintain quality.

Having a social computing edge in a digital system will add a lot of value to the existing digital system. It draws a lot of users who are willing to be a part of its ecosystem  and bring about the changes faster and better. They can produce efficient, faster and accurate results by making use of unique human abilities. To give a collective view of the value of the social computing systems in today’s digital era is the exponential creation of content in a short time, the accuracy and authenticity of results improves manifold due to exponential participation and in order to represent a community of value the users put their best effort to create content and last but not the least is the unpredictable usage of unique human abilities carrying out varied tasks that cannot be imagined.

I am a frequent user of one such application called Twitter. Twitter is an application where the users have to express their thoughts, suggestions, opinions about a topic or about any of their daily activities in very few words. This system is build around a daily interaction of users. The algorithms collect the tweets from the topics which have the maximum tweets and put this as part of trending topics. The hash tags collect the relevant information and put it in one place. These and many more such algorithms are used to keep users engaged. Each of the users in the application have an identity on twitter called has twitter handle. I feel systems like these really have the ability to create waves in a short span of time because of their multiplying effect. The systems today need to have the right amount of knowledge to incorporate the CSCW concepts into their systems for their success. This not only improves user engagement but also increases user satisfaction with the product.


User Experience Promises to Keep

Every time you sit to design, there are certain principles that should always be pinned to your wall. These principles are a kind of promises that you take before you embark on the journey to create great digital experiences of the future.
I have been reading a book called “Human Interface Guidelines: The Apple Desktop Interface”.  This book gives you a thorough guideline on philosophies behind the Apple Desktop Interface. The principles here form the basis of the desktop interface of Apple. Even today, they form the basis of a lot of design experiences.
Lets go through each of these in detail below.

1. Metaphors from the real world:
Use concrete metaphors and make them plain, so that users have a set of expectations to apply to computer environments. Whenever appropriate, use audio and visual effects that support the metaphor.”

What this means is that, in order to cater to a wide variety of audiences, we have to design our applications closer to the real world metaphors. The audiences from a wide variety of age groups are more familiar with these metaphors. This makes it easier for them to understand things.
The best example mentioned is the desktop itself. It appears to be a surface on which users can keep tools and documents. Even though menus and scrolls do not appear like the actual metaphors of the real world the desktop being closer to the actual metaphor makes the others easier to grasp. As a whole the real world metaphors need not be exactly close to the real world but they can be different in way mentioned above.

2. Direct Manipulation:
“Users want to feel that they are in charge of the computer’s activities”

Users want power to manipulate. No one likes to see at a screen which does all your work. There has to be an element of interaction to make it interesting. Even the movie can hold a user for 2 and half hours beyond that the people lose patience. Without feedback nothing interests them. Every action should have, not necessarily an equal an opposite reaction, but some reaction.

3. See-and-point (instead of remember-and-type):
“Users select actions from alternatives presented on the screen.

The general form of the user actions is noun-then-verb, or “Hey, you-do -this”

Users rely on recognition, not recall; they shouldn’t have to remember anything the computer already knows.

Most programmers have no trouble working with a command-line interface that requires memorization and Boolean logic. The average user is not a programmer.”

The principle holds true in most of the contexts and for range of users. This is a basic principle of learning. Users want to be reminded about things at the right time. They should not be required to remember data that the computer system already has. For e.g: I need not remember a persons number as I have already fed the data in my phone. By searching in the persons name I can quickly retrieve the number.

“Effective applications are both consistent within themselves and consistent with one another.”

There are not many people in number who can take changes really well. If your user interface has to cater to all kind of audiences, it has to be consistent with what is already built and learnt by the your users.  Interestingly, there is a precise statement in the book that tells you how consistency should be looked at:
” This sometimes means that a programmer’s new solution that precisely matches a particular situation should be set aside in favor of a slightly less effective but more commonly used solution.”

5. WYSIWYG(what you see is what you get):

“There should be no secrets from the user, no abstract commands that only promise future results.”
“There should be no significant difference between what the user sees on the screen and what eventually gets printed.”

A perfect example is the use of print commands to print documents or banners as desired. There should be exactly no difference between the document’s layout, styling etc after its printed on the paper. Whatever the computer commands claim to do should be done by the computer, that means, if the computer is shown to put a document in the recycle bin it is made sure it is no longer found in original folder and is now in the recycle bin folder.

6. User Control:
“The user, not the computer, initiates and controls all actions.”

The computer provides relevant options that will help the user to proceed with the task. It is ultimately in the hands of the user to choose what he wishes to do with it. Incase a user tends to use a wrong command the computer will flash a warning message to indicate that, but, ultimately is the user who will decide if he still wishes to go ahead with it.

7. Feedback and Dialog:
“Keep the user informed. Provide immediate feedback. User activities should be simple at any moment, though they may be complex taken together.”

In order  that user has the power to manipulate the user has to be given the information he requires to act. He needs to be given the valid data and information to act towards or against a task. Every information provided on the screen should be in the end users language. The instructions should be understandable to the user.

” Users make mistakes; forgive them. The user’s actions are generally reversible- let users know about any that aren’t.”

The best way you can let a user learn something is by letting them try out things by themselves. Learn to make products and that are forgiving. Inform users where they are going and then also inform them about the consequences of their actions. Try to make all actions reversible but if they are not please inform the user.

9. Perceived stability:
“Users feel comfortable in a computer environment that remains understandable and familiar rather than changing randomly.”

10.Aesthetic Integrity:
” Visually confusing or unattractive displays detract from the effectiveness of human computer interactions.
Different “things” look different on the screen.

Users should be able to control the superficial appearance of their computer workplaces- to display their own style and individuality.

Messes are acceptable only if the user makes them- applications aren’t allowed this freedom.”

Aesthetics play a very important role in connecting with the user. An interface should be aesthetic, which does not only include looking good but also orderly and clean.

These principles have formed the basis of a marvel. They definitely had something in them that made an Apple computer what it is today. The first step in building a change is by spotting the right principles that make it happen.

(P.S: Comments and suggestions are highly appreciated)

Experiences of Living Away from Home

Away from home

Each one of us has this desire to live in a different country. We are curious about knowing different places. In this world of Internet and check-ins each  one of us wants to document are experiences. Each one of us wants to share are tales of travel with the friends, family and acquaintances. Each one of us wants to travel and see the unknown.

I am fascinated about seeing people and their behavior across different cultures. Each of us learns to survive in our own ways. We all are bound by international terms and conditions. Our own country sometimes bounds us by so many restrictions that we cannot fly too high.

Seeking freedom is one of the important aspects that makes you leave your own country and follow your dream. Its not that you do not miss your family or times you have spent with them, its just that you choose to live your life differently then what they can imagine. Freedom is a sense of responsibility for our actions. It puts the responsibility of actions on ourselves. We are the ones responsible for everything we do no matter what. I actually love that feeling. I love that the mistakes I make are because I am trying  for what I want in life. It actually teaches me a sense of responsibility that no textbook has ever taught.

Travelling through each country has made me realize that not a single country is out of problems. The only thing that differs in each one of us is the way we deal with it. Some people love to deal with it by praying or being religious andsome just want to be happy no matter what happens. Its just amazing to see how people react to problems so differently. Their cultures make them who they are.

I believe each of us can get rid of our problems by looking at other cultures and their way of living. Each of these cultures has something that they are doing the right way. Living and knowing these things makes us more stronger and better individuals. Hence don’t just travel, live and breath in these places. You will not only love the people here but also respect your people back home.

Black or White

I came across this awesome piece of image on my facebook timeline. I was so fascinated by the thought . It is so realistic and true. Indian men love fair women. Thanks to our lovely fairness cream advertisements and the Indian film industry.  Why can’t people understand that a woman’s skin color is not by her choice. It is not something that she can control. It is not something that she can change. It is not of any value in the long run and It is not that makes her ugly. What makes her ugly is her unwillingness to understand things. What makes her ugly is her  not so great attitude towards life, don’t blame it on the skin color.
We need to value women or men by their attitude towards life. Their charm or their persona that they made over the years of their life experiences. Their way of conversing, respecting and loving. These things are in our hands. Its in our hands to shape the beauty of our souls and make it fair and lovely.

GOA- Nothing Else Matters

Why the life at one place is different than the life at the other?Why at one place where women are tabooed to drink , the other place they  are free to drink and serve liquor because it effects the “economy”?Why do we have to come to a place like Goa to be free?Why?Hush so many questions that come to my mind as I travel the streets of GOA.Its a place where people come to be free.The long beautiful roads and bars at every corner serving, beer cheaper than water.Getting to beer,the goa restaurants do not serve water at all .Its strange and funny.I like the fact that people do not want to be in their senses at any given point in time in goa. People come here to free themselves from the bonds or responsibilities that they have as humans.Some like to go back some dont.