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November 16, 2007 » 1:45 am

Online Tools As Space

It’s late, I’m tired, and I have a workshop I’m hosting tomorrow. But, I’ve got to get this off my chest now. You can thank my old partner in crime, Chris Dent, for initially instigating this with his blog post entitled, People in Social Software Systems.” What closed the deal for me was reading Wendy Seltzer‘s piece, “Facebook: Privacy versus cross-context aggregation.”    (MOZ)

I’ve been playing with this metaphor of Online Tools As Space for about a year now, and I’ve been threatening to write an essay on it for about as long. The premise is simple. We have a natural intuition for space and how it affects the way we work. Whether or not we leverage that intuition is another problem entirely, but the fact of the matter is, we do a better job of leveraging that intuition in meatspace than we do in online space. And we can leverage that intuition in online space.    (MP0)

Online space is mostly equivalent to physical space, except the physics are slightly different. The folks at Linden Lab have this saying about Second Life: “It’s just like real life, except you can fly.” That’s not quite what I mean when I say the physics of online space is different, and the statement itself is wrong in subtle, but important ways. (Yeah, yeah, I understand it’s a marketing slogan.)    (MP1)

Time is essentially equivalent in both online and physical space. What’s different are the notions of proximity and presence. There is still the notion of distance in online space, but it’s fungible. I can bridge gaps by modifying the presentation layer or by linking content, and suddenly, distances disappear. Moreover, we can take an existing online space and munge into something that looks entirely different. Since we don’t have the notion of physical presence, we have to create a digital representation — essentially Digital Identity.    (MP2)

What are the ramifications of all of this? First the good news. Once we get past the mental roadblock that technology seems to create in all of us, we can find that — for the most part — our intuitions about space applies both to physical and online spaces. I can identify a good intimate or public space just by looking at it, whether it’s a physical room or a web site. We just have to leverage this intuition.    (MP3)

Now the bad news. The fungibility of online space and Digital Identity creates social havoc, largely in the area of privacy. People’s blogs feel like private spaces, and so people treat them as such, but they’re not actually private. People make contributions to Wikipedia, not expecting these to reveal much about their identities, yet some researchers discover that if you aggregate all this data, you can create visualizations that reveal a startling amount about a person’s identity. And all of this stuff is easy to do.    (MP4)

I’ve got a lot more to say on all of this, and perhaps one day, I’ll be able to say it coherently. But now that I’ve gotten it off my chest, I’d love to hear people’s feedback.    (MP5)

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One Response to “Online Tools As Space”

  1. […] is doubly true with online space, where the rules of group physics still apply. Time works the same way online as it does in the […]

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