MAS 963  ·  Special Topics in Media Technology  ·  Spring 2007

Instructor: Judith Donath
Thursdays 10am - noon  ·  room E15-235
Credits: 0-12-0 (H)
Course secretary: Mary Heckbert
TA: Dietmar Offenhuber




  Now that the semester is over... if you are looking for more information about Sociable Media research, please see the main page of the Sociable Media Group and Professor Judith Donath's homepage.

Designing Sociable Media

  We live in an increasingly virtual world. We interact over email and IM; we meet new people and keep up with friends via their online profiles. We are continuously building a vast record of our various transactions, a personal portrait in clicks, words and video. And our communications are becoming integrated into the walls of our homes and offices, a ubiquitous blanket of connectivity.

This virtual world is wholly synthetic: the design of the underlying system shapes how you appear, what you can see and hear, and who has access to what. As designers, we are responsible for thinking about the impact of our creations: we can envision a future in which technology expands our sociability, making an extraordinarily creative, communicative and cooperative world, but we can also envision a dystopic future where friendship has become a conduit for marketing and awareness of universal surveillance choreographs our every move.

This course examines public space and social interaction in the computer mediated world. Through weekly readings and design assignments we will explore such topics as:

  • Identity, pseudonymity, and privacy
  • Visual representations of people
  • Environments for real-time interaction
  • Visualizing conversations
  • Designs for the connected city

Readings include works on graphic design and visual perception (Tufte, Gombrich, Arnheim), social psychology (Milgram, Goffman), urban design (Whyte, Lynch), social networks (Wellman, Feld), social interface design (Donath), and technological futures (Ballard, Sterling).



  Requirements include weekly reading and design projects, active class participation and a final project. (For examples of readings and assignments, please see the 2003 and 2001 syllabi, though the class does change significantly from year to year).


Feb 08 introduction: design inpact
Feb 15 text conversations
 visualizing the social patterns found among the words
Assignment Reading (Saville-Troike, Donath, Small, Turner et al, Whitaker et al), observations and sketches
Feb 22 cognitive mapping (Dietmar)
Mar 01 graphical social spaces
  Beginning a taxonomy of graphical social spaces
Assignment reading about and exploring graphical worlds
Mar 08 information landscapes
 Navigation in information space
Assignment zooming, scaling, translating
Mar 15 mediated faces & portraits
  What might/ought you look like online?
Assignment faces in the interface
Mar 22 presence and the representation of people
  Abstract representations of people
Mar 29 spring break
Apr 05 Listening instead of seeing
 Sonification and auditory interfaces
Apr 12 Public speaking
  Interfaces for speech across public spaces
Assignment: talking in space
Apr 19 social networks
  Overlaying depictions of social network structure on face to face encounters
Assignment: Network display in everyday life
Apr 26 ubiquitous connections
 Dealing with issues of privacy in a ubiquitously connected world.
May 03 new architectures
  Transforming the built environment with information displays and communication media.
May 10 future visions: dystopia and utopia
  The good, the bad, and the ugly...
May 17 Final presentations