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Sep 2009

Digital Etiquette

Engaging with socially-powered technology for the past decade, I’ve noticed the slow, natural formation of ‘digital etiquette’.  In the same way that researchers have found information-seeking behaviour to be akin to animalistic ‘foraging’ behaviour, it seems that our typical social behaviour manifests itself on the web as well.  As online tools are appropriated by real users in a social context, we are starting to see the natural development of online ‘politeness’.  Some examples…

Re-Tweeting and Sharing Posts
When finding an interesting link posted by another user, it is polite to credit them when sharing it with your own network.  Twitter users accomplished this by creating and following the convention of re-tweeting (which is now being integrated formally into the system by twitter).  Along the same vein, Facebook has recently added a share feature which allows you to auto-distribute any post to your own network. However, Facebook’s system does not automatically include any information about the original poster with a user’s “re-post”.  This can result in a reaction from users; unless you mention whose post you’re sharing, you’re likely to receive a friendly “hey, you stole my post!”.

Multiplayer Gaming Conventions
Since their inception, multi-player games have been steeped in their own customs, language and culture.  Upon the release and adoption of a new game, its player community naturally tends to form rules and customs surrounding the freedoms and limitations of the game.  Starcraft, a classic strategy game from Blizzard, became extremely popular due to its balanced and engaging gameplay.  After an online community of players developed, a weakness of the game was revealed: advanced players could bypass an involved war by rapidly training a few troops to kill off beginners before they even get a chance to start playing.  The process was named rushing and an abundance of players started hosting games with “no rush” in the title, resulting in civil games based solely on players’ trust that fellow players would show politeness.

Selective Photo Tagging
Photo tagging is a useful feature on Facebook.  Users are able to tag the people in a photograph, automatically notifying them and attaching the photograph to their profile.  This creates a delicate situation, as anyone has the power to add pictures to your profile.  At first, users would tag every picture added to the network.  As users become more and more aware of this phenomenon, they have started tagging only the best pictures.  This creates an environment where all photos are accessible, but only the best are attached to a users’ profile.  Selective tagging is a clear display of respect and politeness for fellow users of the service.

There are many more examples of online politeness.  As social technology becomes more central, the trend is not likely to slow down.  What does this mean for designers?  We should take note of this trend and improve the user experience of any socially-driven system by considering and accomodating digital etiquette in our designs.

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