ddc: last class ;-( ;-(

our last designing digital communities class met yesterday, and i’m really sad about it, okay?

we looked at a bunch of projects that are

  1. using data to increase transparency of our governing institutions, and/or
  2. creatively subverting or maybe resisting or maybe breaking the hegemony of big companies’ big algorithms.

of course, the best of these subversions will probably eventually be eaten up by the big companies themselves. but let’s be inspired by them til then!

some of the projects:

  • OpenSecrets.org, “the most comprehensive resource for federal campaign contributions, lobbying data and analysis available anywhere.”
  • The Sunlight Foundation, “a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses the tools of civic tech, open datapolicy analysisand journalism to make our government and politics more accountable and transparent to all.”
  • CV Dazzle, “camouflage from face detection.”
  • McDonald’s video game: “Making money in a corporation like McDonald’s is not simple at all! Behind every sandwich there is a complex process you must learn to manage: from the creation of pastures to the slaughter, from the restaurant management to the branding. You’ll discover all the dirty secrets that made us one of the biggest company of the world.”
  • Phone Story game: “Follow your phone’s journey around the world and fight the market forces in a spiral of planned obsolescence.”


this not subversive but uncanny neural network-trained image generator of faces, bedrooms, and other mundane things.

really glad i got the chance to audit this class.

ddc and icm: sydette harry and nikole hannah-jones

on monday, sydette harry, the community manager for the coral project, spoke to our class. her approach was much more interactive than francis’s, and she really managed to get us to participate in a way that we hadn’t yet.

where francis mostly says information at us (a method i like, but mileage varies), sydette’s technique felt more like collecting information from us. it felt like we were all learning from each other. she asked open-ended questions, wrote responses on the board (!) with chalk (!), and let the responses dictate what content she covered next. i’m sure she already had a loose idea of what she wanted to go over, but she also struck me as someone who has experience/talent improvising and extracting compelling ideas from hesitant/skeptical audiences.

the primary question for the two hours was:

“how do you meet the needs of people who don’t know they’re part of a community (yet)?”

this is the state of affairs for commenters on news sites.

we talked about tuckman’s stages of group development: forming, norming, storming, and performing; and how the obstacle to forming community on the internet is that there’s not consensus about what the task at hand is. the “performing” step, the really important one, is interrupted or never accomplished.

this was all on my mind at the panel on civil rights reporting i went to tonight. at one point, nikole hannah-jones said (to paraphrase) that the public now has access to reporters through social media—that if reporters misrepresent a story, they now have to answer for things they might not have had to answer for in the past.

which i found interesting because in francis’s class, we’re often talking about a “don’t read the comments” paradigm of interaction between readers and journalists. i asked nikole in the q&a how she decides who to listen to, what the balance is between answering readers on social media and ignoring ugly comments. where i collapsed these two into the same category of interaction, she really emphasized the difference between social media and comments. she said she only ever reads five comments deep on a given article but that, in her experience, when there’s a hateful comment that she actually takes time to respond to, the tone of the commenter changes in the follow-up; commenters don’t actually expect their words to reach a human, and they don’t expect to be addressed by a human in response. and (still paraphrasing) she said that the kind of discourse that happens on social media is qualitatively different.

all food for thought, maybe for my icm final project. i’m excited to hear nikole hannah-jones again at the creative summit next weekend.

notes from sydette harry's lecture
notes from sydette harry’s lecture

ddc: online art gallery with comments

i’ve been thinking about ideas for online communities to build. here are a few really basic sketches for one, done with wireframe.cc:


homepage 1a featured artist or gallery at the top. you can click to learn more or scroll down to see what other artists are featured on the site. with this layout, i’m not sure whether the artists below the featured one would only be up for a certain time—in which case, this space would be a kind of online exhibition space—or whether it would become a repository of artists who have been featured in the past.

homepage alternative

homepage 2i really want livestreamed or at least recorded gallery talks to be more of a thing. this layout gives space for that.




featured artist

artist pagethis would be a page for a featured piece or featured artist. gallery/artist, commenters, and art media outlets all have space on this page, but i wanted to give commenters priority. not sure if there would be an upvote system or what kind of reputation thing would be in place. maybe they’d just be heavily moderated. the intense moderation would be a problem for scaling, but maybe the community wouldn’t be big enough for it to matter?

the funding/payment model for this project is important. the point of this site, for me, would be to engage more people in conversations about art, and i wouldn’t want people who are already excluded from lots of those conversations to be excluded by a paywall or by awful commenters. things to think about.

ddc: anonymity

monday’s designing digital communities class was about the role of anonymity in online communities: good, bad, ugly, alternatives. i found it helpful to study the bad behaviors as “types”, with their associated motivations and effects:

dissociative anonymity

  • having an identity separate from how people know you offline or in the rest of your life


  • no one is actually watching you
  • moving away from the social panopticon
  • this is becoming less common as our online worlds become increasingly traceable


  • communication is free from the temporal constraints of other offline interactions
  • you build emotional distance from your shitty actions by physically leaving the computer; “an emotional hit and run”

solipsistic introjection

  • we internalize communications with others online, so we just think we’re “talking to ourselves”
  • dehumanizes people on the other side of the computer

dissociative imagination

  • the world online feels entirely separate, like a video game, so consequences don’t spill over into your “real” offline life

minimizing authority

we discussed having real names or pseudonyms as alternatives to complete anonymity, and we reviewed reputation management and identity verification processes of a few online communities. for example, stackoverflow.com and reddit.com both use badges and/or upvotes as reputation signals. how do we build scalable reputation tracking systems into communities we design?