Following is my initial Masters Project idea. The details of this statement will change as the project progresses. This blog will detail those changes, additional documents, and related background research.
In thinking about how to utilize the web and web applications to facilitate communication between strangers, I began to come up with ways in which to connect people from different backgrounds with each other. By connecting people who have different histories and experiences, I wanted to create an application that would socially educate individuals on the diversity of the thoughts and life experiences of others. I had two initial problems with this idea: first, the tendency of individuals to associate with people similar to themselves, and second the limits of online interaction.
In doing some background research I came across an article in the Christian Science Monitor which details the project of Ronni Abergel called “Living Library.” The idea is that for one day there are stereotyped categories of people at the local library (i.e. witch, Muslim, funeral director) who can be checked out for 20 minute conversations. This combination of social categorization and social interaction can lead to some interesting insights for individuals unfamiliar with people who self identify with these categories.
To reproduce the “Living Library” in an online environment would certainly fall short, because of the limited communication offered via web applications. I realized that the face to face communication is the important feature of the “Living Library” and that in order to create a meaningful experience for users, they would have to share something of value about themselves rather than just chatting via text. Using this as a starting point, I intend to create a website which allows users to gain insights into other people’s online experiences. I will maintain a categorization structure, which will serve as a profile on the site. Ideally users will be able to browse and search other users profile tags and follow aspects of their online behavior. Technically, this could involve seeing what they what page they are looking at in their browser and seeing mouse positions, but it could also include seeing ads, suggested products, and wish lists that belong to the other user.
- Getting users to give up their privacy, even temporarily to share what they are doing.
- Allowing the shared browsing experience to work over sites using plug-ins (Flash, Java)
- Ensuring that the experience is interesting enough for users to want to follow others
- Gaining access to the cookie directory to share sites targeted marketing
- Ensuring that the categories of users are robust enough to allow for rich variety, but limited enough to retain meaning.
I hope to create an application that is both entertaining and insightful. Luckily, the human condition requires that the majority of us have a voyeuristic side that is curious how others live their lives and experience the world. I hope to provide insight, via shared experience, into an aspect of other people’s lives different from one’s own.