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The Social Machine: Designs for Living Online Hardcover – May 23, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (May 23, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262027011
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262027014
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Judith Donath's thorough, in-depth look at social media is worthy of detailed, careful reading, but it also wonderfully supports opening at random, then reading and pondering. Want examples? Although interacting with people through technology is not as good as actually being with them, sometimes it can be better. What does it mean to be a stranger in the world of social media? "The stranger," she suggests, "may cease to exist." What do these observations mean for us as people and as a society? A book worthy of repeated reading, repeated pondering.

(Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things, revised and expanded edition)

If you use social media and especially if you design social media, The Social Machine is a must-read. Judith Donath has spent years studying, building, and using online communication media and shares what she has learned in a readable, detailed, prescriptive book. The truth of her observations can be verified by looking at the media you use and the way you use it. Every user experience and user interface designer in particular should read The Social Machine to learn what they didn't teach in engineering school.

(Howard Rheingold, author of Net Smart)

Delightful, informative, and comprehensive, The Social Machine by Judith Donath provides a sumptuously illustrated overview of important design concepts for the design of mediated sociality. Donath's book will make you look at every social interface anew--wondering what the design process was that produced it and why specific design choices were made. The text informs us but also invites us to engage with the ethics of choices that have been decided and that lie ahead of us. It will make you want to review your own history with social media and mediated interaction, evaluate and critique the current landscape, and imagine future possibilities. As we move into a world exploding with social media and with representations of us in data and in digital form, this is the book to read to understand the history and garner a foundation for thinking about the future.

(Elizabeth F. Churchill, Director of Human Computer Interaction, eBay Research Labs, and co-author of Foundations for Designing User-Centered Systems)

The Social Machine provides new insights gathered from decades of research and practice by artists and technologists in visualizing the social landscape. Drawing from her own pioneering work in making networks of human relationships visible at the group, institutional, and Internet scales, Donath succeeds in painting an unusually deep and personal portrait of the continually expanding universe of social media.

(John Maeda, Design Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers)

About the Author

Judith Donath is a Faculty Fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a Visiting Scholar at MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
(Disclosure - Judith Donath is an admired friend, and I have had the pleasure of talking to her about this book over the years she's worked to craft it.)

The internet allows us to interact with other people in ways that were previously impossible. We can be virtually present with people who are continents away, interact with groups larger than could fit in any room or carry out clandestine conversations in the midst of a public discussion. While these new forms of interaction of possible, they're not always comfortable - we are still learning how to take part in these digital spaces and designers are still learning how to build spaces we understand and navigate.

Judith Donath has been thinking about these problems since she was an undergraduate at MIT's Media Lab in the early 1990s, before the rise of the graphical Web. As a student and then a celebrated professor at the Media Lab, she worked on dozens of systems to visualize online social interactions and make visible subtle, but important, human dynamics like turn-taking in conversations. Her work, and the work of her students, has influenced the design of online community systems for the past two decades.

The Social Machine is both a tour through this work and the work of other designers of social media systems, as well as a set of principles for design of online spaces. Judith urges us to consider the "legibility" on online spaces, the challenges users have in understanding what's possible in these systems and how they should interact with them. This insistence on clarity and simplicity over innovation for innovation's sake characterizes the designs she showcases and serves as a critical principle for all designers of online interactions.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Donath (who is a colleague and friend) writes an engaging and wonderful book on how to design online social spaces. Donath inspired me to think about the difficulty in designing user interfaces that are innovative, legible, and socially beneficial. Donath begins the book by explaining how difficult it was to create a whois interface that made sense in the early days of networked computers. This thread is continued as a metaphor throughout-- how do we represent space, place, and person online? As a person who is not a designer (and quite far from it I may add), the examples and explanations throughout the book were incredibly vivid and easy to understand. Indeed, Donath excels here- bringing all audiences along the path of learning how we visualize things offline and how they can be represented online. Her explanations of interface design made me realize how difficult it is to develop and refine the social interfaces we take for granted today like Facebook and Twitter and how these designs have been shaped by their predecessors. Donath asks and astutely answers the question "How do online spaces accurately capture and represent the nuance and dynamics of the offline world?" There are wonderful examples throughout showing how humans use metaphors to think about time, space, and money and how metaphors can be applied in the social interface design process. She reminds us that there can be a lot of values inherent in interface design-- and one of the funnier examples was when she discusses how CERN scientists used Comic Sans in their presentation announcing the discovery of the Higgs boson. Was it an intentional design decision (probably not)? This book is a wonderful read for non-designers and designers alike and should be required reading for all graduate degrees in digital design.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Judith Donath (disclosure: she's a colleague and friend) has written a beautiful book that poses a profound question to designers: How can we create digital, social objects that enable and encourage us to be together in fruitful and fully human ways? She brings to this discussion a vast knowledge of the field, her years of working with talented students, her own experiments and projects, and an underlying set of concepts -- signaling theory -- that bring a coherence to all of this.

Donath is a skilled observer and analyst, enabling her to explore what old concepts, such as portraiture, mean in the digital, networked age. In thinking through the transposition of old forms to the new networked medium, she brings us to a deeper understanding of the old, while challenging us to take responsibility for the social effects of our new design decisions.

The book is full of provocative examples, many illustrated with color photographs. For that reason, this is a book that should be held in the hand, not read on a black-and-white Kindle.
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