Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Social Navigation as seen a decade ago

I'm always fascinated when I find "old" papers that still resonate today. Well, I'm not talking about the manuscripts from the Library of Alexandria, but I just came across a paper on "Design Principles for Social Navigation Tools", written in 1998. The principals still seem rather relevant!

That makes me think; what was social navigation about a decade ago and how differently we perceive it today, after all, there was no social bookmarking nor tags out there, like we know them today.

Defining different flavours of social navigation

Social navigation can happen in many different forms... One may distinguish between direct and indirect social navigation [Dieberger, 1998, Svensson, 1998]. In direct social navigation, we talk directly to other users. In indirect social navigation, we can see the traces of where people have gone through the space, as for example in the Footprints system [Wexelblat and Maes, 1998].

In my context of use, direct social navigation could be seen to happen through networks of friends and colleagues, that the users of a social tagging system have established. Or, it can also be sort of "ask the expert", or ask your colleague type of thing. Direct social navigation could most likely take place in sharing pedagogical practices, for example.

Indirect social navigation, on the other hand, would be like following other users collections of bookmarks, browsing them through " xx other user have this in their collection" or through common tags, for example in the personal or common tag cloud.

Furthermore, social navigation may be intended or unintended by the advice-giver.. distinction can be made for when the advice-giver is one particular person, known to us, or when it is just a group of anonymous users that have happened to navigate through the same space as us. In-between these two extremes, we may have groups of users that are similar to the navigator in terms of interests, profession, knowledge or task. The advice-giver may also be an agent [Foner, 1993]1.

The idea of having intended or unintended advice-giver is intriguing, many times in collaborative environments for learning, we are very occupied in setting up advisors whose intend it to give advices. But in the real world, people are somewhat shy asking a specific "advisor" for hints or help, peers seem to work better, or many people look for "traces" for that purpose. So, it seem to me that it is very important to design a lot of unintended advice-givers to help social navigation in learning and teaching contexts, they can be anonymous crowds, agents, traces, annotations, hints of task orientation, shared interests, or what ever we can think of.

I wonder if this table makes sense like it is now: (I'm not talking about blanc spaces...)

Unintended advice-giverIntended advice-giver
Indirect social navigationTag cloud guiding the navigationA recommendation (person, agent,recommender,..)
Direct social navigationBookmarks from network of friends to navigateA friend, expert, peer gives advice or recommendation

The 6 design principles

The principles according to Forsberg et al. (1998) are Integration, Trust, Presence, Privacy, Appropriateness and Personalisation. The examples are pretty hilarious, really like from 10 years ago, but nevertheless, the principles stand like they should!

It is emphasised that social navigation should be part of everyday tools to make best use of it. This is what we see nowadays a lot, more and more things are integrated in our workflow, for example the browser with all the add-ons and blug-ins has become a central tool.

To make the best use of social bookmarking, it is of utmost importance to make the process easy and part of what one was doing right at that moment. The delicious-bookmarklet added in the browser toolbar is a good example, it is so easy to use that you hardly even have to stop what you are doing at that moment to bookmark. Thus, you leave more traces for others, besides arranging your own information space.

The idea of Attention Metadata is another one, if you use Slogger to generate Attention Metadata on what all you do on your web-browser, you don't even have to think of doing it.

This refers to how do you make the presence of others shown to users, how do they know that someone has been here before. Annotations (tags, comments, evaluations, opinions, ratings...) are a perfect way to do that (Kilroy was here!), you know that someone passed through that space.

Or showing how many other users are online at the moment, think of how much fun is it to log into Skype at 1am and see that despite the quietness of your work room, some other people are out there still slaving away.

In order to take a note of someone else's doings, it helps if you know whether you can trust them, are they a reliable source, do they like the same things as you do, etc. When reading film critics, one quickly picks up the critic who is like-minded, and disregards the other one who always seem to have too much of a mainstream thinking. Similarly, to trust the source for online social navigation can become crucial, if there are many ways to go forward.

In some situations one design choice is more appropriate than the other one, for example indirect social navigation can be suitable for finding inspiring information, whereas you might rather turn to someone to talk to when you have a specific question at hand. This is in my opinion related to finding a means that fits the purpose of the information seeking task at hand, something that I've been mulling around a lot and is related to the Human-Computer Interaction framework.

This concerns the issues of making users aware of the traces that they leave, data that is logged and used for personalising their searches, etc. This is also related to some codes-of-conducts that some systems have. Very important for things like Attention Metadata, Google personalized, etc.

Personalising Navigation:
"Social navigation provides excellent opportunities for tailoring navigational advice to individual user's task, knowledge or abilities". How I see this, it is related again to the information seeking tasks, interests, etc.

Forsberg, Mattias and Höök, Kristina and Svensson, Martin (1998) Design Principals of Social Navigation. In: 4th ERCIM Workshop on User Interfaces for All, Stockholm, Sweden.

author = {Mattias Forsberg and Kristina Höök and Martin Svensson},
year = {1998},
title = {Design Principals of Social Navigation},
address = {Stockholm, Sweden},
url = {},
booktitle = {Proceedings of 4th ERCIM Workshop on User Interfaces for All}

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