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Products Are People Too

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I found the conversations about social software in 2004 – driven primarily by Clay Shirky – incredibly inspirational. In the excitement of making web applications, we’d forgotten that people aren’t computers. We’d forgotten that, well,

  • Groups behave different at different sizes and at different points in their lifecycle. We heard about Robin Dunbar’s Magic Numbers yesterday—groups of 8 are very different from groups of 150, or a thousand. A new group and a middle-aged group, maybe a mailing list, have very different qualities too [A note of caution: I think Dunbar’s number and research has been taken on more prescriptively than ever intended. In my view, the research is a useful spotlight, but shouldn’t be used as a foundation as individual situations are always more complicated than the average.]
  • There is a variety of individuals, of relationships, and discussions, with different qualities and capacities, that need to be designed for differently. There is a lot of work into the different types of game players you get.
  • It doesn’t make sense to rationally model people. Psychology means that things like politeness or trust are incredibly important

And rather than defining a computer system where people use a website as if it’s a tool, the reality of the universe includes additional mechanisms which are as real as levers or sitemaps, like:

  • Identity, persistent or not persistent
  • Presence, knowing somebody is nearby, at public, social, personal and intimate distances
  • Relationships—well, we know how important friendships and social networks are
  • Conversations let people learn about one another subtly and build trust
  • Groups have weight
  • Reputation exists for people as really as colour does
  • Sharing and gifting are how people build a lot of the above

[The above is repeated from our 2004 work on social software.]

And all of these are fine-grained and deserve their own discussions…

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June 25, 2007

This presentation puts forward an approach to product design which emphasises experience and stories, and is called Products Are People Too. It was originally delivered in June 2007 as the closing keynote to reboot 9.0.