Brainspew on Social Networking, Abstractions, yada yada

by phil on Tuesday Jun 3, 2003 12:47 PM

- Conversation initiation - usually in a bar or something, you have to have a reason for speaking with somebody right then. The standard things get old, like, "oh, you're hot, let's talk." But rather something like, "who's winning" or "how about that election." Sometimes people wear a pin or have a shirt that says something so they can go, "yeah, I like geckos too." Otherwise, if two people wearing all black are at a strange place trying to talk to each other, how do they connect, they have to connect OVER something. Soirees are nice because everybody's there for a purpose. While as in unknown territory, you have no idea what the purpose of the other person is. Like peacocks, people try to advertise on themselves what their purpose is. A man walks into a bar with a clean shave and a haircut, he's making a statement, people read that, and then respond. A woman wearing a red dress with a slit by her knee is probably available. The ring on the hand is also a symbol. We symbolize and express ourselves to advertise what it is our intention, what are we receptive too. If I wear all black and wear eyeshadow, I'm advertising to all the coffee shop goers, that hey, if you talk to me, I wouldn't mind talking about the latest Goth music, whee. Anyways, back to conversation initiation, people need something to connect over or a rallying point to initiate a conversation/connection. If you're at a soiree designed for a particular function, you know that everybody there is seeking the same thing, so it's easy to talk to them about it. Or if it's a post-convention party, everybody can talk about that keynote or certain exhibits, "did you see that ONE exhibit, man that was awesome". Random parties with random blind people are confusing because what can you talk about, mixed drinks? Age broadcasts a lot, "oh he's 21, maybe he's a college student, maybe he likes to party like I do, maaaybe."

Imagine somebody with no age, no sex, no nothing tries to communicate with you, unless they throw a topic out there, everything has to be invented on the fly. Or, you talk to somebody you already know.

People get nervous about inventing things on the fly.

So, the key is, broadcasting who you are. People like to be unique, to stand out. People want to attract attention as well. In designing software that's intended to initiate conversation, rallying points or reasons to connect need to be made explicit.

- Attracting attention, in order for initiation to begin, attention has to be gathered toward something. People compete in a subtle way for attention. People aren't aggressive at this so they just try to present themselves honestly, otherwise people may get the wrong impression, and try to initiate a contact that's over something they he/she might otherwise be uncomfortable talking about or discussing.

A woman walks into a park and it's sunny outside, but she's wearing an umbrella or a hat that says "talk to me" people will talk to her. But people want the right kind of attention.

Quality of attention, or nature of attention. I could walk into class wearing all black and a pink tie, and I'll get attention, but I'll get the wrong attention. Heck, I may not even talk to anybody, but I'll be receiving contact from others.

There's passive connections and active connections. Passive connections are like, you're standing, dancing, nobody's really looking at you but you think they are. You feel like you're in a certain zone or space that's comfortable. If you're at a dance party and somebody turns on the lights, why do people stop dancing? Because everybody can be seen, who cares that they'll never talk to any of the people around them, but passively everybody is connecting to each other, broadcasting their judgement over the amount of sweat on that guy who you thought was thin, but is actually fat.

So, in designing environments, first, people already know that they're going to be connecting with people passively, the question is how, and in a nature that people want. Do I want people to see my picture in an IM window that just pops up? Do I want my age to get out there? In an online dating forum, I definitely want it out there.

Passive connections are a necessary prerequisite for active connections. Although, people passively connect for its own benefits. For example, subconsciously (or consciously), I'm keeping this Trepia program open because I know in some way, my face and profile is getting out there. I know I'm not going to connect, but I feel a sense of connected presence online, and I want to feel a part of something. I guess passive connections are a good plug for loneliness, so sometimes people just go to places to people-watch and never really connect, just so they feel with-it. Anyways, though, the initial purpose of passive connections is to lead to an active connection. You passively connect with as many people as possible by writhing your body on the dance floor alone, somebody is going to be turned on and voila. You walk into a coffee shop and your hair says, "I can afford good haircuts, or I have style and culture, but I don't look overly friendly, in fact, I have semi-stern smile, like I could glare you to death, so only the brave should come talk to me." Imagine a super hot girl walks into a place with a really friendly smile and a mouth that opens and closes frequently, maybe even a shirt that says, "I love everybody" or "I love geeks" she'll get too many active connections that'll distract her from the active connections that she WANts.

Through passive connections, we are hoping to exert some sort of force or choice on the active connections that we are going to make. Dating services within dance clubs in Asia are nice like that, because the man sits there, looks good, wears a nice watch to show he's rich, and then chooses among the personalities of the girls, the girls choose by being there, and there are no problems.

But this is too efficient. Why are the Americans afraid of this kind of system. Maybe because it's too easy to trick to fool the system. People want to see, okay, in addition to the job that gave you the BMW keys that you're flashing, do you also have social finesse, can you break through to me, can you innovate. This adds a higher level of discrimination and choice, and people want choice.

Now, in situations where active connections don't interrupt other active connections, then people are open. In a dorm setting where you're at lunch, you can talk to whoever whenever without discrimination because you're not limiting yourself to an exclusive interaction. At bars and such, people are extremely discriminate because they have to be if they want to maximize their choice.

So, some environments, first, are receptive to the proper broadcasting of passive connection ports, and then an environment, in order to facilitate active connection, has to provide an opportunity or ability for choice.

So, attracting attention, then initiating a connection. From passive to active, that's the way it goes.

Then, there's the connection itself. The medium has to facilitate the type of connection one wants. If you want to have sex, you go to a dance club because writhing your body up against somebody else's drives the connection toward the sexual. So if you have a club, you make it conducive to dancing, have loud music so people can't be encumbered by talk.

Okay, this is obvious. You setup mood lighting to make the setting how it should be. I'm abstracting this out to computers and such: what kind of mood lighting is your program creating. Did you ever notice that there's a subtle difference between the way you communicate on ICQ vs. on AOL.

My messages on ICQ are longer than on AIM because of the way the program is by default setup, to be message pop-ups you lob back and forth. While as AIM, the channel to a particular buddy stays hot, and you can just dish out one-liners with minimal window change or effort.

So, in designing your communication programs, you have to be understanding about the substrate through which communication will take place. How do you want communication to take place, what nature do you want to give it, is the connection meant to be permanent, will I see you again, or is this just a one night stand, or should it be designed so that it puts pressure on people to give out an e-mail address or phone number at the end of the conversation.

A well designed environment, from a party, to a restaurant, to an IM program, can apply the right pressure to bring people to a desirable social situation. If you done right, people will be addicted to your service because after all, man is a social animal.

Creative Commons License