I’ve been working lately on two projects with companies building social networking platforms with a purpose. While some aspects are clearly around technology, features, and the like, there are also the subtle aspects that go into understanding how these sites will be used. In a meeting with one of the clients, we talked about this difficult area of how to ensure that the use of the site aligns with its purpose: will people interact on the topics that we want them to, will the site discourage irrelevant content or social tourists from joining?
The word “social architecture” came into my head (or all of our heads simultaneously, it’s always hard to tell, isn’t it, when an idea emerges from the collective consciousness in a conversation?).
Like a good web 2.0 doo-bie, I tweeted that I was interested in using the term but needed to understand it more. My friend and colleague, Andrew Gent, tweeted back a definition, but then went on to do much more: he researched it, thought about, and has written a wonderful blog post, Social Architecture, that offers the definition that he tweeted back to me:
Social architecture is the conscious design of an environment that encourages certain social behavior leading towards some goal or set of goals.
Andrew’s blog details the current use of the term with respect to social media as well as its history in the field of architecture. When I began my own superficial search, the thread I followed was biased toward the design of the interaction of various social media (Sam Huleatt: “To me, social architecture is best thought of as a cross between three elements: interface design, social media functionality and user engagement strategy.”) which didn’t reflect what I needed. Andrew has, I think, hit on the more sociological and social engineering (without the negative connotations of that term) disciplines needed to shape a user’s experience.
While Andrew’s context is the corporate intranet, where it is possibly simpler to design intent and purpose into the environment, my work is currently leading me to social networks in the world, a case where an individual company wants to draw people into a network to expand its field of vision and expertise. No answers yet, but Andrew’s exposition is a terrific start and I thank him very much.