Network Community Design: A Social-Technical Design Circle
Network communities are especially interesting and useful settings in which to look closely at the co-evolution of technology and social practice, to begin to understand how to explore the full space of design options and implications. In a network community we have a magnified view of the interactions between social practice and technical mechanisms, since boundaries between designers and users are blurred and co-evolution here is unusually responsive to user experience. This paper is a reflection on how we have worked with social and technical design elements in Pueblo, a school-centered network community supported by a MOO (an Internet-accessible, text-based virtual world). Four examples from Pueblo illustrate different ways of exploring the design space. The examples show how designers can rely on social practice to simplify a technical implementation, how they can design technical mechanisms to work toward a desirable social goal, how similar technical implementations can have different social effects, and how social and technical mechanisms co-evolve. We point to complexities of the design process and emphasize the contributions of mediators in addressing communication breakdowns among a diverse group of designers.