On Early Adoption & Appropriation of Design

by Kevin Makice

If you are like the millions of others on Google+, the new social offering for the search giant, you may already be aware that Google has required use of real names in their network. While the motivation for this rule (accuracy and accountability) are laudable, requiring this behavior has ruffled a segment of the early adopter crowd. For some who haven’t yet join — such as women surviving past domestic issues, or long-time Internet users whose pseudonym is their brand — it is a deal-killer.

danah boyd, who sacrificed her usual handle to join, commented on this problem. Arguably, danah now is better known by her real name than the fake ones, but past experiences and research interests afford her great empathy for people who would want the option not to be themselves on a public site. She followed up with some thoughts on how this affect the practice of building communities:

Social norms aren’t designed into the system. They don’t emerge by telling people how they should behave. And they don’t necessarily follow market logic. Social norms emerge as people – dare we say “users” – work out how a technology makes sense and fits into their lives. Social norms take hold as people bring their own personal values and beliefs to a system and help frame how future users can understand the system. And just as “first impressions matter” for social interactions, I cannot underestimate the importance of early adopters. Early adopters configure the technology in critical ways and they play a central role in shaping the social norms that surround a particular system.

Twitter is great example; it had simple mechanics and great leeway about how you found value. As a result, there are hundreds of ways to make use of that tool, most of which were not anticipated by Obvious when they built the platform.

The gist is not that designers are at the mercy of the people using their systems, but that use is part of the conversation of design. The moment you release an application into the world, the rest of the world is able to influence how it is used. Designers/Developers are well-advised to consider each release as an invitation to talk with their users, understanding that they speak most through actions.

Apophenia (August 5, 2011, by danah boyd)