Inhabiting the virtual city
Judith S. Donath

Part II: Design for the virtual city

But why do birds sing rather than speak Mandarin? Why don't human infants scream and cry when they are content as peas in a pod, but coo and gurgle when they are angry, annoyed, or in pain? And why doesn't Jesse Jackson simply convey his expressive skills by blinking his eyebrows, Morse code style? These are questions about design, and what is true of all communication systems that work is that they have specific design features. The design features of a communication system are the result of a complex interaction between the constraints of the system and the demands of the job required.

- Marc Hauser

This is the design half of the thesis. Here, the ideas about identity and society discussed above form the basis of an approach to the design of on-line social environments.

Chapter 4 (Sociable information spaces) discusses the symbolic and cultural context for on-line communication. Here, the architecture metaphor is used to think about published media as the environment in which virtual activity occurs. Three projects are presented which integrate interpersonal communication and the Web.

Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 (Social visualization) argue for the importance of visual interfaces in a social environment. Images are well suited for portraying concepts and situations that are difficult to communicate through words alone. They can show patterns and trends, they can viscerally communicate emotional expression, and they are well suited for conveying symbolic meaning. Visual Who (Donath 1995a) addresses the problem of making the underlying social structure of a community visible: it creates an interactive overview of the social patterns and activities of a large on-line community. The Illustrated Conversation (Donath 1995b) is a visual setting for a conversation, which allows the participants to indicate presence and attention by their appearance in the conversation space.

Chapter 7 (Inhabiting the virtual city) brings together the concepts developed in the preceding design chapters. Its focus is on the A Day in the Life of Cyberspace Web site, which integrates interaction and visualization in an on-line environment.

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