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Social Interface Design

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I just got done reading a very interesting article by Joel Spolsky (of JoelonSoftware fame) that gave me cause to pause. He suggests that, previously, usability had been concerned with human-computer interaction (HCI), but that the advent of the Internet, in particular, has given rise to human-human interaction usability. For example, the interface of Napster (and consequently of virtually all subsequent P2P applications) contained the mis-affordance of using buttons to effect a tab-like effect, yet despite this glaring error Napster was the most popular application in the world at the time.

He goes on to suggest that content-driven websites (ie, websites that are not also applications) do not particularly need usability, so long as the humans can get at (and, I presume, add to) the content.

Obviously, I'm in the middle of product design with ReComputing, and I've asked myself on more than one occasion how I see the user interacting with the Internet, and, consequently, with other users. This is an interesting question that I had never thought about before, so I might take some time to consider it. Does social interface design only apply to ReComputing's networking utilities? How do I effect seamless data sharing and cooperative authoring, given a metadata-driven file taxonomy, for instance?

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