Where social software should go next — Habitat’s lessons

MMOGs have not pro­gressed since 1990. Nei­ther has social software.

Well maybe a lit­tle, but not much. At least that’s what I’m lead to believe after read­ing anoth­er won­der­ful essay in The Game Design Read­er—a book I like to dip into once in a while to read what­ev­er catch­es my fancy.

In The Lessons of Lucas­film’s Habi­tat1 Messrs Farmer and Morn­ingstar share their expe­ri­ences build­ing pos­si­bly one of the first graph­i­cal MMOGs ever. The game’s front-end ran on a Com­modore 64 and looked some­thing like this:

Screenshot of Lucasfilm's Habitat

It’s strik­ing how many of the lessons summed up by the authors have not been (ful­ly) tak­en to heart by MMOG design­ers. Bitch­ing aside, their arti­cle offers as much use­ful advice to game design­ers as to design­ers of any piece of social soft­ware. Since this post has grown unex­pect­ed­ly long (again). I’ll sum them up here:

  • The imple­men­ta­tion plat­form is rel­a­tive­ly unim­por­tant.” — on loose­ly cou­pling a world’s con­cep­tu­al mod­el and its representation
  • Detailed cen­tral plan­ning is impos­si­ble; don’t even try.” — on relin­quish­ing con­trol as design­ers, co-design and evo­lu­tion­ary systems
  • Work with­in the sys­tem.” — on facil­i­tat­ing world cre­ation by play­ers and mod­er­a­tion from with­in the world

Let’s look at each in more detail:

Loosely coupled

The imple­men­ta­tion plat­form is rel­a­tive­ly unimportant.”

Mean­ing that how you describe the world and how you present it can or should be loose­ly cou­pled. The advan­tage of this is that with one world mod­el you can serve clients with a wide range of (graph­i­cal) capa­bil­i­ties and scale into the future with­out hav­ing to change mod­el. Their exam­ple is of a tree, which can be ren­dered to one user as a string of text: “There is a tree here.” And to anoth­er user as a rich high res­o­lu­tion 3D ani­mat­ed image accom­pa­nied by sound.

And these two users might be look­ing at the same tree in the same place in the same world and talk­ing to each oth­er as they do so.”

When I read this I instant­ly thought of Raph Koster’s Meta­place and won­dered if the essay I was read­ing served as some sort of design guide­line for it. What I under­stood from Raph’s GDC 2008 pre­sen­ta­tion2 was that they are try­ing to achieve exact­ly this, by apply­ing the archi­tec­tur­al mod­el of the inter­net to the design of MMOGs.

Look­ing at social soft­ware in gen­er­al, how many exam­ples can you give of the cur­rent wave of social web apps that apply this prin­ci­ple? I’m remind­ed of Tom Coates’s Native to a Web of Data pre­sen­ta­tion—in which he argues that a ser­vice’s data should ide­al­ly be acces­si­ble through any num­ber of chan­nels.3

Sim­i­lar­ly, web 2.0 poster child Dopplr is designed to be “a beau­ti­ful part of the web”, “a fea­ture of a larg­er ser­vice, called the inter­net”.4 And they want to be every­where, adding a lit­tle bit of val­ue where it is most need­ed. Per­haps not exact­ly the same thing as what Farmer and Morn­ingstar are allud­ing to, but based on sim­i­lar principles.

As an aside, in MMOG land, there is one oth­er major con­cern with this:

Mak­ing the sys­tem ful­ly dis­trib­uted […] requires solv­ing a num­ber of dif­fi­cult prob­lems. The most sig­nif­i­cant of these is the pre­ven­tion of cheating.”

Cheat­ing might be of less con­cern to social soft­ware than to games (although there are excep­tions, take Digg for exam­ple). For those inter­est­ed in more about this, Raph Koster recent­ly post­ed an elab­o­rate exam­i­na­tion of hack­ing and cheat­ing in MMOGs.

Control, co-design, evolution

Cheat­ing aside, there is more use­ful (albeit famil­iar) advice for social soft­ware design­ers in the piece. For instance on the need to hand over (part of) the con­trol over the sys­tem’s design to its users:

Again and again we found that activ­i­ties based on often uncon­scious assump­tions about play­er behav­iour had com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed out­comes (when they were not sim­ply out­right failures). ”

They go on to say that they found it was more pro­duc­tive to work with the community:

We could influ­ence things, we could set up inter­est­ing sit­u­a­tions, we could pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for things to hap­pen, but we could not dic­tate the out­come. Social engi­neer­ing is, at best, an inex­act sci­ence […] we shift­ed into a style of oper­a­tions in which we let the play­ers them­selves dri­ve the direc­tion of the design.”

Again, famil­iar advice per­haps, but they describe in some detail how they actu­al­ly went about this, which makes for enlight­en­ing read­ing. That this prac­tice of co-design goes against ‘com­mon’ soft­ware devel­op­ment prac­tices is not left unad­dressed either:

[…] the chal­lenge posed by large sys­tems are prompt­ing some researchers to ques­tion the cen­tral­ized, plan­ning dom­i­nat­ed atti­tude that we have crit­i­cized here, and to pro­pose alter­na­tive approach­es based on evo­lu­tion­ary and mar­ket prin­ci­ples. These prin­ci­ples appear applic­a­ble to com­plex sys­tems of all types […]”

(Empha­sis mine.) I am intrigued by this evo­lu­tion­ary mod­el of web devel­op­ment. In the abstract for Move­ment, Matt Webb writes:

the Web in 2008 has some entire­ly new qual­i­ties: more than ever it’s an ecol­o­gy of sep­a­rate but high­ly inter­con­nect­ed ser­vices. Its fierce­ly com­pet­i­tive, rapid devel­op­ment means dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing inno­va­tions are quick­ly copied and spread. Atten­tion from users is scarce. The fittest web­sites sur­vive.

(Again, empha­sis mine.) I think the chal­lenge that now lies before us is to not only as design­ers prac­tice co-design with our users, but to go one step fur­ther, and encode rules for autonomous evo­lu­tion into our sys­tems. These are the adap­tive sys­tems I’ve been blog­ging about recent­ly. An impor­tant note is that sys­tems can adapt to indi­vid­ual users, but also—in the case of social software—to aggre­gate behav­iour of user groups.5

This can be extend­ed to a world’s gov­er­nance. Here is one of the ideas I find most excit­ing in the con­text of social soft­ware, one I have seen very few exam­ples of so far. 

[…] our view is that a vir­tu­al world need not be set up with a “default” gov­ern­ment, but can instead evolve as needed.”

I can­not think of one MMOG that is designed to allow for a mod­el of gov­er­nance to emerge from play­er inter­ac­tions. The best exam­ple I can think of from the world of social soft­ware is this arti­cle by Tom Coates at the Bar­be­lith wiki. Bar­be­lith is a some­what ‘old school’ online com­mu­ni­ty com­prised of mes­sage boards (remem­ber those?). In the piece (titled TriPo­lit­i­ca) he writes:

Imag­ine a mes­sage board with three clear iden­ti­ties, colour-schemes and names. Each has a gener­ic set of basic ini­tial forums on a clear­ly defined range of sub­jects (say — Pol­i­tics / Sci­ence / Enter­tain­ment). Each forum starts with a cer­tain struc­ture — one Monar­chic, one Par­lia­men­tary Democ­ra­cy and one Dis­trib­uted Anar­chy. All the rules that it takes to run each com­mu­ni­ty have been suf­fi­cient­ly abstract­ed so that they can be turned on or off at will BY the com­mu­ni­ty con­cerned. More­over, the rules are self-reflex­ive — ie. the com­mu­ni­ty can also cre­ate struc­tures to gov­ern how those rules are changed. This would oper­ate by a bill-like struc­ture where an indi­vid­ual can pro­pose a new rule or a change to an exist­ing rule that then may or may not require one or more forms of rat­i­fi­ca­tion. There would be the abil­i­ty to cre­ate a rule gov­ern­ing who could pro­pose a new bill, how often and what areas it might be able to change or influence.”

He goes on to give exam­ples of how this would work—what user types you’d need and what actions would need to be avail­able to those users. I’m pret­ty sure this was nev­er imple­ment­ed at Bar­be­lith (which, by the way, is a fun com­mu­ni­ty to browse through if you’re into counter cul­tur­al geek­ery). Actu­al­ly, I’m pret­ty sure I know of no online space that has a sys­tem like this in place. Any inter­ac­tion design­ers out there who are will­ing to take up the gauntlet?

Creativity, moderation

Work with­in the system.”

This is the final les­son offered in the essay I’d like to look at, one that is mul­ti­fac­eted. On the one hand, Messrs Farmer and Morn­ingstar pro­pose that world build­ing should be part of the sys­tem itself (and there­fore acces­si­ble to reg­u­lar players):

One of the goals of a next gen­er­a­tion Habi­tat-like sys­tem ought to be to per­mit far greater cre­ative involve­ment by the par­tic­i­pants with­out requir­ing them to ascend to full-fledged guru-hood to do so.”

And, fur­ther on:

This requires find­ing ways to rep­re­sent design and cre­ation of regions and objects as part of the under­ly­ing fantasy.”

I do not think a MMOG has achieved this in any mean­ing­ful sense so far. Sec­ond Life may offer world cre­ation tools to users, but they are far from acces­si­ble, and cer­tain­ly not part of the “under­ly­ing fan­ta­sy”. In web based social soft­ware, sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief is of less con­cern. It can be argued that Flickr for instance suc­cess­ful­ly offers world cre­ation at an acces­si­ble lev­el. Each Flickr user con­tributes to the pho­to­graph­ic tapes­try that is the Flickr ‘pho­to­verse’. Wikipedia, too offers rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple tools for con­tri­bu­tion, albeit text based. In the gam­ing sphere, there are exam­ples such as SFZe­ro, a Col­lab­o­ra­tive Pro­duc­tion Game, in which play­ers add tasks for oth­ers to com­plete, essen­tial­ly col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly cre­at­ing the game with the designers.

Like I said, the les­son “work with­in the sys­tem” applies to more than one aspect. The oth­er being mod­er­a­tion. The authors share an amus­ing anec­dote about play­ers exploit­ing a loop hole intro­duced by new char­ac­ters and objects (the play­ers gained access to an unusu­al­ly pow­er­ful weapon). The anec­dote shows that it is always bet­ter to mod­er­ate dis­putes with­in the shared fan­ta­sy of the world, in stead of mak­ing use of exter­nal mea­sures that break the play­er’s sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief. Play­ers will con­sid­er the lat­ter cheat­ing on the part of administrators:

Oper­at­ing with­in the par­tic­i­pants’ world mod­el pro­duced a very sat­is­fac­to­ry result. On the oth­er hand, what seemed like the expe­di­ent course, which involved vio­lat­ing this mod­el, pro­voked upset and dismay.”

Design­ers should play with users, not against them. This applies to social soft­ware on the web equal­ly. It is this atti­tude that sets Flickr apart from many oth­er online com­mu­ni­ties. Flickr’s design­ers under­stand the prin­ci­ple of “oper­at­ing with­in the par­tic­i­pants’ world mod­el”. For exam­ple, look at how they han­dled con­fu­sion and irri­ta­tion around the last Talk Like A Pirate Day gag.6


In sum­ma­ry, dear read­er, if you got this far, I would love to see exam­ples of social soft­ware that:

  • Are acces­si­ble in a num­ber of ‘rep­re­sen­ta­tions’
  • Are co-designed with users, or bet­ter yet, apply evo­lu­tion­ary prin­ci­ples to its design
  • Allow users to devel­op their own mod­el of governance
  • Allow users to eas­i­ly add to the sys­tem, in an inte­grat­ed way
  • Are mod­er­at­ed from with­in the system

If you—like me—can’t think of any, per­haps it’s time to build some?

Image cred­its: © 1986 LucasArts Enter­tain­ment Com­pa­ny.

  1. The essay can be read online over here. []
  2. More about my GDC 2008 expe­ri­ences. []
  3. This prin­ci­ple is now being applied to the extreme in Yahoo!‘s Fire Eagle. []
  4. The for­mer quote I first encoun­tered in Matt Jones’s pre­sen­ta­tion Rule­Space, the lat­ter is from this BBC arti­cle on Reboot 9.0. []
  5. For more on aggre­gat­ing user behav­iour in social soft­ware also see Greater than the sum of its parts by Tom Coates (yes him again). []
  6. Tom Armitage has some good thoughts on the Talk Like A Pirate Day deba­cle. []

Game player needs and designing architectures of participation

How do you cre­ate a cor­po­rate envi­ron­ment in which peo­ple share knowl­edge out of free will?1 This is a ques­tion my good friends of Wemind2 are work­ing to answer for their clients on a dai­ly basis.3 We’ve recent­ly decid­ed to col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly devel­op meth­ods use­ful for the design of a par­tic­i­pa­to­ry con­text in the work­place. Our idea is that since knowl­edge shar­ing is essen­tial­ly about peo­ple inter­act­ing in a con­text, we’ll apply inter­ac­tion design meth­ods to the prob­lem. Of course, some meth­ods will be more suit­ed to the prob­lem than oth­ers, and all will need to be made spe­cif­ic for them to real­ly work. That’s the challenge.

Nat­u­ral­ly I will be look­ing for inspi­ra­tion in game design the­o­ry. This gives me a good rea­son to blog about the PENS mod­el. I read about this in an excel­lent Gama­su­tra arti­cle titled Rethink­ing Car­rots: A New Method For Mea­sur­ing What Play­ers Find Most Reward­ing and Moti­vat­ing About Your Game. The cre­ators of this mod­el4 want­ed to bet­ter under­stand what fun­da­men­tal­ly moti­vates game play­ers as well as come up with a prac­ti­cal play test­ing mod­el. What they’ve come up with is intrigu­ing: They’ve demon­strat­ed that to offer a fun expe­ri­ence, a game has to sat­is­fy cer­tain basic human psy­cho­log­i­cal needs: com­pe­tence, auton­o­my and relat­ed­ness.5

I urge any­one inter­est­ed in what makes games work their mag­ic to read this arti­cle. It’s real­ly enlight­en­ing. The cool thing about this mod­el is that it pro­vides a deep­er vocab­u­lary for talk­ing about games.6 In the arti­cle’s con­clu­sion the authors note the same, and point out that by using this vocab­u­lary we can move beyond cre­at­ing games that are ‘mere’ enter­tain­ment. They men­tion seri­ous games as an obvi­ous area of appli­ca­tion, I can think of many more (3C prod­ucts for instance). But I plan on apply­ing this under­stand­ing of game play­er needs to the design of archi­tec­tures of par­tic­i­pa­tion. Wish me luck.

  1. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, shar­ing knowl­edge in large organ­i­sa­tions is explic­it­ly reward­ed in some way. Arguably true knowl­edge can only be shared vol­un­tar­i­ly. []
  2. Who have been so kind to offer me some free office space, Wi-Fi and cof­fee since my arrival in Copen­hagen. []
  3. They are par­tic­u­lar­ly focused on the val­ue of social soft­ware in this equa­tion. []
  4. Scott Rig­by and Richard Ryan of Immer­syve []
  5. To nuance this, the amount to which a play­er expects each need to be sat­is­fied varies from game genre to genre. []
  6. Sim­i­lar to the work of Koster and of Salen & Zim­mer­man. []

Work with me in Copenhagen (or where-ever)

Panorama of Copenhagen harbour

Now that I’m over three months into my stay in Copen­hagen I thought it would be good to post a short update. Here are the facts, bul­let-wise (with apolo­gies to Mr. Tufte):

  • I have been in Copen­hagen, Den­mark since July 1st 2007
  • Until now I have most­ly been work­ing on Playy­oo, doing inter­ac­tion and game design
  • I also pre­sent­ed on Play­ful IAs at the Euro IA Sum­mit in Barcelona
  • No lat­er than July 1st 2008, I will return to Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • Yes, I intend to con­tin­ue free­lanc­ing when I get back (I offi­cial­ly left Info.nl on Octo­ber 1st 2007)
  • I am avail­able for free­lance inter­ac­tion design gigs that involve social media, mobile tech­nol­o­gy and/or gaming
  • You can also invite me to speak at your event or com­pa­ny, par­tic­u­lar­ly on the top­ic of apply­ing game design prin­ci­ples to the user expe­ri­ence of prod­ucts and services

Oh and of course, if you hap­pen to be in Copen­hagen, don’t hes­i­tate to drop me a line when you feel like going out for some drinks!

Playful IAs — slides for my Euro IA Summit 2007 talk

After a con­sid­er­able amount of fid­dling with SlideShare I’ve final­ly man­aged to upload a ver­sion of the slides that go with my Play­ful IAs pre­sen­ta­tion. This more or less as I pre­sent­ed it at the Euro IA Sum­mit 2007 and includes an approx­i­mate tran­script of my talk. I hope to get an audio/video record­ing of most of it in the near future as well. When I do I’ll update this page.

Update: I’ve post­ed a short sum­ma­ry of the cen­tral argu­ment of my talk.

Down­load a ver­sion includ­ing an approx­i­mate tran­script (14,5 MB).

I had some great reac­tions to this talk and I want to thank all the peo­ple who engaged with me in dis­cus­sions after­wards. It’s giv­en me a good pic­ture of what areas I should devel­op fur­ther in future sub­se­quent talks. I’m also pleas­ant­ly sur­prised to see that con­trary to what some peo­ple think, the IA com­mu­ni­ty (the Euro­pean one at least) is very much open to new ideas. That’s real­ly nice to expe­ri­ence firsthand.

A lot of peo­ple asked for a list of books and oth­er good sources on the top­ics I cov­ered. Here’s an incom­plete list of stuff I’ve used at some stage to inform my thinking:

If that does­n’t keep you busy for a while, you could always have a dig through my del.icio.us links. There’s plen­ty of good stuff there. Of course of if you ever find any­thing you think would be of inter­est to me, do let me know. Just tag it for:kaeru.

The toy-like nature of social media

A Barbie doll

I’ve been mean­ing to write about this for quite a while: I think a lot of social media are like toys. I think what we see with peo­ple (adults!) using them is a lot like the open-end­ed play we know from play­ground games in school. A lot of these games are about explor­ing (the pos­si­bil­i­ties of) social rela­tion­ships in a ‘safe’ con­text. Social media offer this same poten­tial. In play­ground games there is a nat­ur­al under­stand­ing that what hap­pens with­in the mag­ic cir­cle of the game is not real­ly real (but the notion is blurred.) A lot of dis­cus­sion about the vir­tu­al­i­ty of rela­tion­ships in social media does not acknowl­edge the exis­tence of such a thing: Either the rela­tion­ship you have with some­one is real (he’s a real friend, or even real fam­i­ly) or not, in which case the rela­tion­ship is often seen as val­ue-less. I’d argue that a lot of peo­ple use social media to explore the poten­tial of a rela­tion­ship in a more or less safe way, to lat­er either tran­si­tion it into real­ness or not (note that I do not mean it needs to be tak­en offline into meat-space to make it real!)

I think social media are so com­pelling to so many peo­ple for this rea­son. They allow them to play with the very stuff social rela­tions are made of. I think this fas­ci­na­tion is uni­ver­sal and vir­tu­al­ly time­less. At the same time I think the notion of using social play as the stuff of enter­tain­ment has seen a tremen­dous rise over the past decade. (I tend to illus­trate this point with the rise of real­i­ty TV.)

If you think of the design of social soft­ware as the design of a toy (in con­trast to think­ing of it as a game) you can design for open-end­ed play. Mean­ing there is no need for a quan­tifi­able end-state where one per­son (or a num­ber of peo­ple) are said to be the win­ner. You can how­ev­er cre­ate mul­ti­ple feed­back mech­a­nisms that com­mu­ni­cate poten­tial goals to be pur­sued to the play­er. Amy Jo Kim has a worth­while pre­sen­ta­tion on the kind of game mechan­ics to use in such a case (and also in the more game-like case.)

Final­ly, two things to think about and design for: 

  1. Play in social media hap­pens accord­ing to rules encod­ed in the soft­ware, but also very much fol­low­ing exter­nal rules that play­ers agree upon amongst themselves.
  2. You will have peo­ple gam­ing te game. Mean­ing, there will be play­ers who are inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing new exter­nal rules for social inter­ac­tions. Think of the alter­na­tive rules play­ers enforce in games of street soc­cer, for instance.

Update: Just thought this small quote of Michal Migurs­ki defend­ing the recent Twit­ter Blocks nice­ly com­ple­ments my argument: 

There are plen­ty of but-use­less things in the world that serve as emo­tion­al bond­ing points, amuse­ments, attrac­tions, and macguffins. Prac­ti­cal­ly all of social media falls under this cat­e­go­ry for me, a form of medi­at­ed play that requires a sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief in ratio­nal pur­pose to succeed.”

Reboot 9.0 day 2

(Wait­ing for my train home to arrive, I final­ly have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to post this.)

So with Reboot 9.0 and the after-par­ty done, I think I’ll briefly write up my impres­sions of the sec­ond day.

Stowe Boyd — Good talk as always, offer­ing a new def­i­n­i­tion of ‘flow’. I guess his attempt to have peo­ple open them­selves up to the ben­e­fi­cial sides of being inter­mit­tent­ly con­nect­ed was a success.

Marko Ahti­saari — Inter­est­ing char­ac­ter with a good sto­ry to tell. His free mobile oper­a­tor for teenagers scheme made a lot of peo­ple curi­ous. (Free stuff always does that, it seems.)

Lee Bryant — Very fit­ting to the theme of human?, a touch­ing sto­ry of how for­mer inhab­i­tants of a Bosn­ian town used social soft­ware to recon­nect and rebuild the town.

Julian Bleeck­er — Cool stuff on new ways to inter­act with com­put­ing tech­nol­o­gy beyond the util­i­tar­i­an and effi­cient, into the realm of play. 

Dave Win­er — An inter­est­ing char­ac­ter hav­ing a nice con­ver­sa­tion with Thomas. I enjoyed his off­beat remarks and dry wit. 

Guy Dick­in­son — Anoth­er round of micro­p­re­sen­ta­tions, this time with me par­tic­i­pat­ing. I stum­bled sev­er­al times. Next time I’ll pre­pare a cus­tom talk for this. The oth­er pre­sen­ters were awesome.

Ras­mus Fleis­ch­er and Mag­nus Eriks­son — Two cool young anar­chists with inter­est­ing ideas about file shar­ing and the future of music. Too bad large parts of their pre­sen­ta­tion were read from a sheet.

Leisa Reichelt — A care­ful­ly put togeth­er overview of ambi­ent inti­ma­cy, what it is and what it’s for. Next step: com­ing up with design guide­lines for these types of ‘tools’.

Matt Webb — Deliv­ered on the expec­ta­tions raised by his per­for­mances pre­vi­ous years. Inter­est­ing to see him move into expe­ri­ence design ter­ri­to­ry and hear his take on it. Very much applic­a­ble to my dai­ly work in design­ing web services.

Din­ner and the after-par­ty were great (although it seemed that the reser­va­tions scheme had gone awry, they had no place for us at our cho­sen restau­rant). I guess drink­ing and talk­ing into the night at Vega with a lot of con­fused locals around was a fit­ting way to end anoth­er great Reboot.

Social — second of five IA Summit 2007 themes

(Here’s the sec­ond post on the 2007 IA Sum­mit. You can find the first one that intro­duces the series and describes the first theme ‘tan­gi­ble’ here.)

The recent web revival, that I will not name, pushed one trend to the fore­front – social soft­ware. The most chal­leng­ing aspect of design­ing social sites and appli­ca­tions is that you’re not ‘just’ design­ing for sin­gle users, but also for groups as a whole. The IA com­mu­ni­ty is still in the begin­ning phas­es of cre­at­ing a body of knowl­edge about how to best go about this.

Andrew Hin­ton gave one of the best talks of the event, first describ­ing the unique prop­er­ties of net­work-like com­mu­ni­ties of prac­tice and how to design for them. From there he made the point that IA itself is a com­mu­ni­ty of prac­tice, not a for­mal dis­ci­pline, which means it should try to stay open and flexible.

Bonus: Gene Smith took a stab at the build­ing blocks of social infor­ma­tion archi­tec­tures and came up with this nice mod­el.

Mobile Social Play — my Reboot 9.0 proposal


I’ve just sub­mit­ted my pro­pos­al for a talk at Reboot 9.0. It’s on the three areas I am most fas­ci­nat­ed with at the moment: mobile, social soft­ware and gaming/play. After attend­ing this great con­fer­ence twice it’d be real­ly cool to get the oppor­tu­ni­ty to present there.1

Take a look at it and let me know what you think2, I’d love to get some feed­back up-front so I can maybe work that in there. What do you want to know about this topic? 

Curi­ous what this might be like? Take a look at the Pecha Kucha I deliv­ered on mobile gam­ing for a taste of what’s to come.

  1. If it does­n’t work out I can always turn it into a micro pre­sen­ta­tion.
  2. If you like it, vote it up!

Using concept models to design for the web of data

Flickr concept model by mApplogic

I’m lucky enough to be doing some con­cept­ing and inter­ac­tion design work for a social web site. This pre­sent­ed me with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to inte­grate some stuff I found while read­ing on social soft­ware, and the web as platform/network. Here’s how I’ve been inte­grat­ing some of it.

I was inspired by the con­cept mod­el of the Flickr ecosys­tem I saw in Luke Wrob­lewski’s pre­sen­ta­tion on social inter­ac­tion design (which was done by Bryce Glass) to try and cre­ate one myself. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly there’s a whole chap­ter in Dan Brown’s book (which Peter was smart enough to pur­chase and was lying around the office) on cre­at­ing con­cept models.

One of the things I want­ed to do is make the site play nice with the web of data. To that end, I decid­ed to apply Tom Coates’ 3 basic page types to the design of the site. So what I did was first cre­ate a con­cept mod­el (of course fol­low­ing some research of the site’s busi­ness and user goals) and then look at the nouns and verbs in the mod­el. For each noun I cre­at­ed a sin­gle object view page and a list view page. For each verb I cre­at­ed a manip­u­la­tion inter­face page. Of course, all list type pages would get RSS feeds in the even­tu­al site.

For instance if you have a mod­el that states ‘Review­er rates Book’ then you’d end up with a page for each review­er and book, a page to list review­ers, a page to list books and a manip­u­la­tion inter­face for rat­ing a book.

Doing this result­ed in a nice list of pages that I could then analyse for com­plete­ness and/or redun­dan­cy. Of course this only works if your con­cept mod­el accu­rate­ly reflects what the site should achieve. If your mod­el sucks, your list of pages will too.

Anoth­er caveat lies in the fact that a con­cept mod­el tends to be very effec­tive for map­ping the func­tion­al aspects of a site, but not very suit­able for cre­at­ing an overview of its con­tent (which is often more push ori­ent­ed). If the kind of site you’re cre­at­ing involves more infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture than inter­ac­tion design you might want to do some addi­tion­al con­tent inven­to­ry work and fold that into the page list.

One last chal­lenge would be orga­niz­ing these pages in a coher­ent whole (beyond cou­pling lists to sin­gle items to inter­faces). I can imag­ine I’d attempt some card sort­ing to achieve that.

Final­ly, for cre­at­ing the con­cept mod­el I used the spe­cial­ized (and free) tool Cmap­Tools which is pret­ty nice in that it goes beyond visu­al­ly mod­el­ling the con­cepts but actu­al­ly track­ing the state­ments you implic­it­ly make when link­ing con­cepts to each other.

Any­one else have expe­ri­ence with try­ing to inte­grate some of the stuff Coates was talk­ing about in their design of a site?

Surprises in Animal Crossing: Wild World


So I’ve been play­ing AC: WW for over a weeks now and I must say it has lived up to my expec­ta­tions. It’s a cute and quirky game that does not fol­low con­ven­tion­al game design rules. There is no way to die, no (real) way to loose or even win. In a sense it’s more like a toy than a game; you can play with it end­less­ly, there is no goal to reach (apart from dis­cov­er­ing all it’s lit­tle secrets).


One of those secrets was par­tic­u­lar­ly fun to dis­cov­er. After a few days of play I con­vinced my girl­friend to give it a try. So she put the car­tridge in her pink DS Lite. While I was cook­ing din­ner, she went through the begin­ning stages (dri­ving to the town in a taxi, get­ting a job with Tom Nook). A bit lat­er, I picked it up again and went about my busi­ness (I think it was fish­ing, I still have a large loan to pay off after the first house expansion). 

After a while I went back into the house and found (shock! hor­ror!) a bunch of cock­roach­es run­ning around my care­ful­ly kempt inte­ri­or. “We have cock­roach­es!” I shout­ed to my girl­friend while run­ning around the house try­ing to squash them. The appar­ent source was some apples lying around. “Didn’t the ani­mals tell you don’t leave stuff lying around the house?” I asked her. They had, but where should she put them (the apples) oth­er­wise? Good point. 

We had a good laugh after that episode. Be care­ful who you play this game with; it might be a chal­lenge liv­ing togeth­er in the real world – Ani­mal Cross­ing is no dif­fer­ent! But the real genius of the game is in these things. It’s a rules based world for sure (leave apples around the house, get cock­roach­es) but the mini-nar­ra­tives that it allows you to build in this way is crazy.


Anoth­er exam­ple is the let­ters I find myself writ­ing to the ani­mals. I’m sure they’d be hap­py with any kind of let­ter, as long as I men­tion some spe­cif­ic words maybe (like ‘hap­py’ and ‘friend’). In stead, I’m writ­ing ful­ly formed sen­tences, and include lit­tle details that would be appre­ci­at­ed by real peo­ple. In that way, it’s allow­ing for sub­tle role-playing.


On the sub­ject of role-play­ing (and there not being a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ way to play the game); I know I should be hard at work pay­ing off the afore­men­tioned loan (to progress to the next ‘lev­el’). But in stead I find myself spend­ing a lot of time and mon­ey on present for the ani­mals, and dona­tions to the muse­um. That might be role-play­ing (or that might be my real per­son­al­i­ty influ­enc­ing what I find plea­sur­able in the game) but the coolest bit is that it doesn’t mat­ter; any way of play­ing is valid.

Have any oth­er peo­ple had sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences with the game? Are there ways to apply this log­ic (the pat­terns inher­ent in the game) to oth­er domains?

Some closing links: