Social Computing Group - FAQ

Can I get an internship with your group?

Send a note with information about your interests, and a resume/portfolio, to Wendy Kellogg, wkellogg (at)

Would you come and give a talk at our institution?

Quite possibly. We're willing to stop by if we're in the vicinity; otherwise an airline ticket and lodging is all that is required to get us to your neighborhood.

Can I get Loops or Babble?

Nope. Both systems have retired. Only funding would coax them out of retirement.

What is Babble? What is Loops?

Babble was a persistent chat system that implemented the first social proxy — a minimalist visualization of people that showed their presence and activities in the system. It served as a vehicle for providing casual opportunistic interactions for distributed workgroups, and — over time — for capturing the knowledge generated in day to day working conversations, thus supporting a deeply social approach to knowledge management, in which knowledge maintains its links with the people who create and use it. Loops was the web-based successor to Babble that supported multiple communities and provided structures for displaying and organizing non-conversational text. You can read more about Babble and Loops in the "Projects" section.

What is Social Computing?

Social computing is concerned with the intersection of social behavior and computational systems. It is used in two ways:

In the weaker sense of the term, social computing has to do with supporting any sort of social behavior in or through computational systems. This means that software needs to be designed so that it supports things like persistent identity, reputation, conversation, and the creation and maintenance of social norms. Used in this sense, social computing includes email, blogs, social networking system, online commerce, and systems generally referred to under the rubrics of "social software" and "web 2.0."

In the stronger sense of the term, social computing has to do with supporting "computations" that are carried out by groups of people, an idea that has been popularized in James Surowiecki's book, The Wisdom of Crowds. Examples of social computing in this sense include Collaborative Filtering, Online Auctions, Prediction Market, Recommender Systems, Collective Content Creation systems, and verification games.

What is social translucence?

In short, social translucence is the idea that we should make some (but not all) cues about the presence and activity of users of digital systems available to one another. We like to use a story to illustrate the idea. In the building where we work there is a door that opens from the stairwell into the hallway. This door has a design flaw: opened quickly, it will slam into anyone entering from the other side. In an attempt at a remedy, a sign was posted: "Open Door Slowly." As you might guess, the sign is not very effective — people soon cease to notice it. We like to contrast the "sign" approach with a different sort of solution: putting a glass window in the door. The "glass window" approach is effective for three reasons: First, as humans, we are perceptually attuned to movement and human faces and notice them more readily than we notice a sign. Second, once we become aware that a person is present, our social rules come into play: I don't open the door quickly because I know that you're on the other side, and I've been raised in a culture that frowns upon slamming things into others. There is a third, subtler reason for the glass window's effectiveness. Even if I haven't been properly acculturated and don't care about harming you, nevertheless, I may still refrain from slamming into you because I know that you know that I know you're there, and therefore I will be held accountable for my actions. We call systems of this sort — systems in which perceptual cues about the activities of their users lead to feelings of awareness and accountability — socially translucence systems.

Isn't "social translucence" just a fancy name for taking away people's privacy?

No. That's why we use the word "translucence" — it stands for striking a balance between privacy and visibility. Consider, as an example, how elections work. In the physical world, it is important that some aspects of elections be very private (e.g. who the voter is voting for), but it is equally crucial that some parts of the process be very visible and public (e.g. the placing of the ballot in the ballet box; the counting of the votes; and, more subtly, it should be visible that the voter is *alone* in the voting booth). For elections to be seen as valid, it is crucial that some parts be private, and other parts public. We suggest this is true of most collective processes, and a fundamental aspect of our research is to understand how to negotiate these tradeoffs in digital systems.

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