Chan, Adrian

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Adrian Chan is a researcher specializing in social software and 'relations'.

Information provided by the author.


Social software blog at

Index to writings in pdf format, at

Index to social software postings, at


"My project Venn is:

--Proximities. The matter of technology is far more interesting than the features, functions, and operations technologies are made of. Technologies of communication are, for me, the most interesting frontier of technical progress. Communication is the most profoundly human achievement, and culture, what sets us apart. And yet we know so little of how technologies might transform human relationships, social relations, cultural practices and so on.

If you want to know what a communication technology does for your life, turn it off. It's not the technical that's interesting; its the individual and social practices into which the technical becomes embedded. Communication technologies can only be understood in terms of practices: messaging, talking, trading, dating, buying, selling, and so on.

I believe technologies of communication fundamentally change our proximity to one another, meaning we now need a sociology of proximity based not on spatial co-presence but on presence negotiation (access to people, obtaining their attention, whether a person is there, and there for us)

Mediated proximity, proximity that is co-produced by these technologies of presence, produces a continuity in spite of our physical separation from on another. This continuity is a temporality. Proximity in the age of its technical production is not spatial, but temporal. Communication technologies connect us, spanning time and weaving a social fabric whose consistency obtains from us "being there" for each other in time, not space.

The organization of time is well known to sociologists as routines, "open states of talk", and durations (the persistence of relations, norms, events, and communication over time).

As individuals, we maintain our presence and proximity when we are not in the same place through communication. Not through images, or appearance, but by maintaining communication. TIME is the least understood dimension of any connective technology

What does all this mean? What can we know and understand? Are there implications for society? Do our relationships change? Are we losing trust? The questions driving an examination of communication technologies are serious. But it is not our purpose to answer them here. Rather, we want to find out what happens when we use these technologies. When we turn to our phones, when we log on, text and email. We can identify some principal themes:

--Interaction dynamics. What happens when 2 or more people use a technology together? We get more than user-computer interaction; we get user-computer-user interaction.

Issues of communication (information capture, archiving, access, search, persistence, privacy, public/private).

Issues of interaction (gestural and paralinguistic handling, ambiguity, intimacies, timing, and of course self-presentation

--Social systems. Social software sites, and now Web 2.0, can be categorized loosely as social systems. Culture, online community, groups, social networks, P2P phenomena--these and more are attributes of social systems. To understand them we have to think beyond the individual user experience and along lines of social practices instead. All of these involve: action coordination; in/formal communication; transactions; trust; boundaries; rhythms; speech as text. For this I use anthropology and sociology, mostly French, German, and British. Some ethno-methodology (as made famous by Xerox PARC). I'm big on applying Niklas Luhmann's systems theory here. Also Erving Goffman, Anthony Giddens, and Jurgen Habermas. A bit of Foucault and Bourdieu. Local thinkers like Kevin Kelly and Nicholas Negroponte. Some SNA (social network analysis) of course, though I find that its topological orientation describes portrays traces of relations, not their nature, and certainly not the experience of those having them.

--Talk systems. I profoundly believe that much of mediated communication and interaction must be understood as "talk." It's linguistically-mediated exchange. As such, I believe it is useful to consider Habermas' three truth claims: facticity, sincerity, and normative rightfulness. How are each of these tested when face to face interaction is displaced by a technical medium? We need to understand the stretch of talk, span of activity, and sequencing and seriality of activity in a mediated talk. Here I separate communication tools and interaction tools, the former being about capturing/archiving/searching/presenting contributions; the latter being about handling meanings, implications, emotional expression, timing, context, theme, and interaction dynamics of interactions. Communication tool is a tribe discussion. Private message is an interaction tool. --Socially structured content. This is a new project, inspired by Marc Canter's structured blogging structured data formats. If Web 2.0 is going to be useful in the social sense, we need a framework of content types, their presentation modules, their sort by, filter by, link to organization. What happens when a site displays "Who's online now?" In contrast with other people content, such as "featured members," "most connected members" "friends of friends," and so on. It's important to distinguish contributors and contributions. Some Web 2.0 developments provide access to and flesh out the contributor, or person. Others, their contributions. We take an interest in people as well as in information, and each can provide a gateway to the tother. So if Web 2.0 is going to be more social, how can it best engage users in people and what they say. Designers should anticipate the phenomena they help to build. Architects understand light, space, mass, and volume. We need to do the same. All of this is based on idea that the designer can only influence participation, using first order design to steer second order effects. But any information onscreen informs what happens as populations grow, over time. In a word, we all know what would happen if LinkedIn were to allow member pictures.s

--We use our communication technologies alone. Our experience surfing the web is still an immediate experience of a device. It only makes sense, then, that we project the "other" (person) into this "world." So I have started a project that I would like to be an A-Z of psychological experiences and transformations. Using the DSM (psychiatric diagnostic and statistical manual) and my own take on psychology, which is biased towards the British School of Object Relations, Transactional Analysis, and group dynamics, I'm interested in how SSNs, IM, chat, video chat, discussions, blogs, email, because they are asynchronous or near-synchronous, screen back our identities, defer confirmations and acknowledgments, permit the presence of "unratified participants" (e.g. lurkers), disrupt episodic talk, disturb turn-taking rules of conversation, undermine or inflate authority and position, etc. Do narcissists love SSN's for a reason?"