Monday, December 24, 2007

The Value of Inefficiency in Social Networking Technology

I have to say that Danah Boyd is rapidly becoming a must-read for me, if for no other reason than the fact that she's addressing things no one else is.

Boyd (who writes under them name zephoria at her blog apophenia):

In the physical world, architects and city planners often build inefficiencies into the system for a reason. I remember a talk by Manuel Castells where he spoke of forcing people to stand on line at regular intervals in public places, even when the activity could be made more efficient through technology. He viewed these kinds of inefficiencies as critical to the well-being of society because they provided a context for people to interact with strangers and, thus, build connections that glued the city together. This worked especially well when people could collectively complain about the people in charge - it provided a reason for social solidarity. (Think about the social solidarity built in NY when there's a brownout or a transit strike.) Physical architects must constantly struggle with maximizing efficiency versus providing room for inefficiencies because of the social good that comes from them.

I have a sneaking suspicion that tech architects never even think about the possibility of creating inefficiencies to enhance social good, but I'm not sure. Since many of you mysterious readers are passionate about social technology, let me ask you. What examples of intentional (or unintentional) inefficiencies do you see in social tech? How do users respond to these?

One of the commenters on the post gets at something good:

the inefficeincy is the social contact.

That suggests that our metric - efficiency - is insufficient for what we're trying to use it for, that it cannot take into account certain things (in this case social contact). I think this is right. It's another example of starting to measure too many things with the measuring stick of technology.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.