[etech06] Danah Boyd (UC Berkeley) – G/localization: When Global Information and Local Interaction Collide

Wow! Brilliant talk from Danah! Glocalizaton: The ugliness that ensues when you shove the global and local together Talking about culture, not so much technology. Most people don’t live in a global environment but live in local cultures. Culture – – Values & Norms & Artifacts – embedded in language and objects. It’s about the … Continue reading “[etech06] Danah Boyd (UC Berkeley) – G/localization: When Global Information and Local Interaction Collide”

Wow! Brilliant talk from Danah!

Glocalizaton: The ugliness that ensues when you shove the global and local together

Talking about culture, not so much technology.

Most people don’t live in a global environment but live in local cultures.

Culture –

– Values & Norms & Artifacts – embedded in language and objects. It’s about the things that bond people together, like Jewish culture, which transcends nation-state boundaries. People are part of multiple cultural groups, which change over time. Symbols allow for insider/outsider markings – learning TLAs and org charts of a new company when you join. First we really want to make sense of it, then we get frustrated, then you become assimilated. It’s not simply access to information that puts you into a culture, but it’s living in it.

One exception is when you go on vacation and are faced with a different culture and you reflect on the strangeness – anthropologists try to make the familiar strange.

When mass media began it assumed a single coherent culture. People make up their own smaller subculture – marking your own space.

Numerous cultures affecting your life at all times – your technology holds on to the culture that you think of as normal.

In usenet different discussion groups may have looked alike, but they had very different cultures. When people with different cultures come in, conflict results. Two early social software types – one was general purpose platforms (email, usenet), the other was specialized (the WELL). The new systems are platforms that allow for lots of customization. These systems have gotten much larger.

Craigslist, Flickr, MySpace

– Passionate designers and users

Craigslist started as Craig’s friends – Craig himself maintains the title of customer service representative.

New MySpace users were originally given a friend – Tom, one of the founders.

All these sites grew organically, have public personalities, have passionate designers and users – character not boiled out of site. Customer service in these customers are not segregated outside the developers – the developers are actually some of the most active customer service people. The designers are working constantly “in flow” with the users. Sites get updated constantly.

They’re using “embedded observation” – living inside the culture of the sites as it emerges – constantly in flow with the users, working with them – not declaring road maps. Take into account all of the cultural forces at play – they can do that because they’re inside the system.

Nudge the culture; don’t control it.

User studies try to figure out if the user can make sense of a UI – but it can’t figure out cultural movements at play. Social science or customer support people are effectively glorified therapists – what they know about is extensive and if they’re removed from the design process the design doesn’t go with the users.
Can’t test community practice by doing static tests in labs – you need to live the culture in order to design for it.

Passionate designers are hard to come by – these people live, breathe, and eat these sites – because they love it. Hard to maintain cultural embeddedness. How do you balance this out?

Can you deal with scale? Even with organic growth many of these sites have millions of users – subcultures form with different behavior and you have to herd the cats. No way designers can pay attention to millions of users – end up having collections of people to bubble up information and see patterns. All these sites are dealing with porn and hate speech. Designers are disheartened by this because they believe in their communities.

Linguistic diversity makes it hard.

Designing through embeddedness
– Passion is EVERYTHING – have to be willing to live breath and eat it.
– Protect from burn-out –
– Diversify your staff to match the community
– Enable and empower, don’t control – like game masters or MCs. Don’t expect people to have the same goals as you.
– Do not overdesign – can’t design to perfection. Design for repurposing. Need to be able to update whenever anything happens.
– Integrate designers designers and customer support – physically as well as logically. Have designers read the support queues. Try documenting how technology decisions affect the community.
– Stay engvaged with the community

WHy public? Why are people doing these social sites?

Just because people can connect globally doesn’t mean they want to – they feel more closely aligned with people they know or are like them. Most people go online to connect with people they know.

But there’s opportunity for accidental connections – people really like that. We know that in the physical world when we meet knew people.

Familiar strangers – Milgrem experiment in the 60s – people would ride the bus together for years without talking, but if they ran into each other on the other side of the planet they became best friends. It’s having something rare in common with people. Online we often ask people to interact with anyone, but that’s not what they want.

Language – we assume we can machine translate. We also assume that if we can understand we’ll want to communicate – but it’s not true. What teens are doing with language is fascinating – morphing it for expressive purposes online. Their parents have trouble parsing it so they stay away – it’s a barrier setting exercise. A lot of the words we use in our culture are incomprehensible to others. Part of understanding linguistic expressions is understanding the specific cultural context.


Cultural symbols – pictures, sounds, icons. Common example – what is obscenity?Obscenity is cultural.

Economic Norms – whose definition of morality are you working with? Important to face and deal with.

Designing for G/localizatoin

Empower users to:
– personalize and culture-ize – means managing in complete chaos
– control access of their expressions – let users privatize their culture
– be cultural spokespeople – let them give you feedback, modify the systems, create walls where they want to.

Let users manage private, public and opportunities for synchronicity.

In the Q&A Danah notes that MySpace, which has 167 employees, has more traffic than Google or Microsoft or anybody except Yahoo!. She says they were dealing with the scaling really well until parents started getting involved.

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