Methods for Social Computing

Posted: August 21st, 2007 | No Comments »

Karen Martin wrote a nice piece (with great images supporting the text) on Methods for Social Computing based on Paul Dourish’s Where the Action Is. Dourish defines “social computing,” as the attempt to incorporate sociological understandings into interface design. He grounds his argumentation on the idea of embodied interaction that is the notion that physical and social phenomena unfold in real time and real space as a part of the world in which we are situated, right alongside and around us. In consequence, Dourish argues, for the now more common approach of incorporating the understandings of how social practice emerges in the design of systems to fit more easily into the ways in which we work. Karen goes on defining the the methods to support social computing mainly ethnography, ethnomethodology (ethno with “practical sociological reasoning”, that is relying on people’s understanding/knowledge of their reasons for acting) and technomethodology (use of ethnomethodology not only for critique but also for design). The evaluation of the design should rely on similar contextualized methods out of the sterile confines of a laboratory. As Dourish concludes, “the only way to come to a good understanding of the effectiveness of a software system is to understand how it features as part and parcel of a set of working practices, as embodied by a group of people actually using the system to do real work in real working settings”. As Karen mentions, this critique remains at the core of discussion on the validity of HCI studies.

Relation to my thesis: Over the summer I read Andy Crabtree’s Designing Collaborative Systems : A Practical Guide to Ethnography that helped me setup my study of taxi drivers. It completes the more theoretical content of Where the Action Is.