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[- Social Software & Senior Citizens
By SophiaRawlinson, Section whatever...
Posted on Tue Nov 4th, 2003 at 08:02:32 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
Continuing the 'Social Software & Senior Citizens' guest host discussion.

I think Matthew Fuller's ideas for social software seem to focus more on software that is critical of itself and software development issues, but may not necessarily be more 'user-friendly' - much like the work of Sarai and The Waag. In my project, I aimed to work towards more 'user-friendly' interfaces for senior citizens, along the lines of work by Sarai and the Waag; although it certainly would have been interesting to develop some sort of conceptual work based on Fuller's definitions of social software in his essay.


[ --------------------------------------------- ]

I suggest the idea of the collaborative interface, as one such way to increase usability - an example being the Wiki (as previously mentioned by Myron Turner) - a democratic form of web publishing & editing. The artist group Knowbotic Research develop collaborative interfaces using both software and hardware.
So far, most critical software I have come across is in the realm of 'net art' - if anyone knows of any other examples, I would be interested to hear about them. Also, critical writing on social software seems to be thin on the ground - in my essay I spoke mainly of Kittler, Fuller and Manovich - are there any other critical thinkers that can be applied to social software issues?
I agree that usability issues may also occur in general information design, including print publications, for example.
I am happy to email my dissertation, which discusses these ideas further, to anyone who is interested.

[ --------------------------------------------- ]

Social Software & Senior Citizens | 16 comments
[new] An early web-based project for seniors (Avg. Score: 3.00 / Raters: 1) (#9)
by MyronTurner ( on Tue Nov 18th, 2003 at 02:01:59 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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I wrote to Sophia offline about a project I worked on at the Banff Centre, which ran from early 1997 to early 1999. Perhaps others in this discussion group might be interested as well. The project was called "Sea-Changes", and the idea was to create an interactive biography site for visual artists in their late 50's and over. Each artist who signed on would (anonymously) contribute biographical materials, texts and images, to a central database. After the database had become sufficiently populated with materials, each artist-participant would then use those materials--but nothing of his or her own--to create a fictional biography--what I called a "meta-biography". The point was an imaginative sharing of experience to which older people might be open.

It soon became apparent that I would have to lower the age limit, which I did, and that I'd have to widen my net to include people other than visual artists, which I did. There just weren't enough older people open to this kind of project. Eventually about 60 people signed up but only a handful ever contributed to the project.

The contributors' interface was a set of forms: to submit texts, to revise, and to upload images. Uploading images seemed to cause the most difficulty, and I would I would end up in some cases having images sent to me via email so that I could place them on the server. It's been a while but I remember having to do a fair amount of hand-holding. I've never been sure whether the difficulties people had with the formed-based interface was age related or whether the use of forms was not sufficiently commonplace six yers ago. Or whether it was something of both. I often wonder whether such a project would do better today, where people routinely interact with forms. I did get some splendid contributions, but in fact these came from people already familiar with computers--one,for instance, was a Rhizome member, another an artist who had used a web site in one of his projects and who worked with video--i.e. someone accustomed to technical formats.

I supplied step-by-step help files with screen shots. But I know from my own experience that approaching something unfamiliar through help files is not always easy. For instance, someone on this list mentioned Linker. But using Linker's online faqs and help files I found it frustrating trying to figure out what in fact Linker does and how it does it. The what was stated in code: "This software offers you a FREE experimental way of Linking data into a matrix of geography." And until I got a handle on it, the how seemed to me similarly coded.

I believe my own help files for "Sea-Changes" must also have appeared coded to people totally unfamiliar with the language of forms and the web, even though I went to great lengths to be clear and to state things in the language of the layman. I've taught HTML to seniors and the matter of finding a language for my explanations, a set of metaphors, is always extremely important. Of course, the more familiar they are with Windows and browsers the easier it is for me, and I have found that since I first taught this class four years ago, seniors have become increasingly computer- savvy.

The current url for "Sea-Changes" is at: I The "Afterword" I talk about how I wrapped up the project and reasons other than interface as to why the project might have seemed problematic for the contributors.

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  • hi by horohoro, 10/30/2004 06:54:17 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME (none / 0)
[new] Linker, user friendliness etc. (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#7)
by SophiaRawlinson on Fri Nov 14th, 2003 at 01:31:42 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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I agree that Linker is indeed a good example of social software - providing users with a simplified version of a program such as Macromedia Director in order for them to share details about their communities. It is difficult to strike a balance between user friendliness and social software - with regards to user friendliness - you are essentially obscuring the code/technology involved to ensure that novices and experts alike can use the technology; on the other hand, to truly understand and critically engage with the software & technology, we need to see the code - thus potentially alienating those who are not experts on computer programming.

In my dissertation I suggest the 'collaborative interface' as one way of dealing with this - essentially, by providing a number of various interfaces (e.g. a mixture of software and hardware - modified at various levels depending on the target user group) for all people to engage with the software, and each other.
Any thoughts on this solution?

[new] What about Linker? (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#6)
by amy on Thu Nov 13th, 2003 at 04:48:11 AM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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Another piece of social software which Matthew Fuller has written about but seems more in line with your work, Sophia, is Linker by Mongrel. I'm curious about your thoughts?

Moreover, when does the quest for "user-friendliness" cross the line into exercising too much control? By simplifying what users may do with software, projects like Linker also place tight limitations on structure and content, and assume a distinct role in authorship of whatever the user creates with them. Perhaps this is useful in some broader context: software that overtly limits what users can do with it reminds us how software that attempts to behave transparently also restricts and controls users. (In much the way software art projects like Auto-Illustrator also seek to point out authorship issues through parody.) But how do the users of such programs respond? Do they see the glass of software restrictiveness/empowerment as half-empty or half-full?

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-- Discordia is nice.
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[new] other thinkers, in text and other formats... (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#4)
by amy on Wed Nov 12th, 2003 at 01:29:06 AM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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as i've posted elsehwere in this thread, many of these issues are dealt with in another project with which i'm involved there are projects and texts there dealing with cultural and social issues of software, as well as ones dealing with code, aesthetics and interface. you might be especially interested in the texts, such as the ones listed here in the 'cultural critique of software' subcategory. but when asked about "critical thinking" i prefer to respond with projects as well as texts, since many critical thinkers prefer to express their ideas in other forms than traditional texts.

you might also notice that the link to texts above and the runme text category in general contain texts by programmers as well as theoreticians and others. we're interested in expanding the discourse on software and software culture so that it includes the voices of the people most directly involved with its production and culture.

# begin amy's sig
-- Discordia is nice.
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  • Thanks Amy! by SophiaRawlinson, 11/12/2003 12:19:19 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME (none / 0)
[new] Cramer... (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#2)
by SophiaRawlinson on Sat Nov 8th, 2003 at 09:26:45 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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Thank you for the link to Florian Cramer's work, I find his comments on the development of open source software as a form of collaborative text, interesting. Cramer notes that open source is one way of critically examining software without focusing on the interface as so many projects have done, such as net art projects which critique web browsers etc. Are there other ways of critically engaging with software beyond the interface and the code?

  • visit runme! by amy, 11/11/2003 07:10:44 PM EURODISCORDIA TIME (none / 0)
[new] critical thinkers about software (Avg. Score: none / Raters: 0) (#1)
by InanueNuryanti on Thu Nov 6th, 2003 at 10:27:37 AM EURODISCORDIA TIME
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Check out Florian Cramer's work at:

Social Software & Senior Citizens | 16 comments

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