CSE 599 Spring 2021: Schedule and Readings

This schedule mirrors the schedule you see in Canvas. We do not link directly to the Zoom invitations here for security reasons but instead to the Canvas page with the Zoom invitation link. Alternatively, within Canvas you can download the course's event feed as an .ical file to import into your personal calendar, which should contain lecture and section times, Zoom links, and assignment deadlines.

Class Topic
In-Class Activity
Due by Class
Mon, Mar 29
Introduction to social computing, this class, and each other.
Wed, Mar 31
A science of the artificial
Why is designing social technologies so hard? While code and databases can be rigid and brittle, as social actors, we have nuanced social requirements and perform actions circumstantially. There is an inherent gap here that may be unbridgeable. But trying to just directly replicate in-person interaction also misses out on new possibilities with technology. Instead, in building a constructed world, what we are creating are new interactions---these are different from offline social requirements but equally rich.
Project ideas brainstorm
3 project ideas
Mon, Apr 5
Evaluating social computing systems
One major difficulty with making progress in social computing systems research is how to do evaluation. It is valuable to know if people will use a new design and how they would use it in a realistic setting. However, recruitment, medium-to-long-term usage, and eventual adoption can be difficult to achieve.
Project evaluation brainstorm
3 evaluation ideas
Wed, Apr 7
Flexibility vs. formalization
Building on last week's readings, we dive deeper into the tradeoffs and opportunities for design in between greater flexibility versus more formalized structure in technology-mediated social interaction. This tension comes up repeatedly in social activities such as coordination, preference elicitation, and communication. Requirements are also different depending on who is being coordinated and what they are coordinating on. Finally, what gets captured vs not in the structure has political ramifications.
Mon, Apr 12
Power, labor, and delegation
As Suchman pointed out, design decisions in social computing systems can reinforce or reconfigure power. What work becomes visible or invisible as a result of the design? Who (or what) gets delegated new responsibilities? And who benefits from that additional work or that delegation? Particularly in the workplace, where there is usually already an existing power hierarchy, answers to these questions can impact adoption.
Project idea presentations and class feedback
Submit initial project proposal and finalize team composition
Wed, Apr 14
Crossing distances
Though technology enables collaboration across distances, it is still difficult, as we have experienced to some degree in this pandemic year of collaborating remotely. There are also different kinds of distances---it can mean distance across space and time-zones, across time (synchronous vs asynchronous), and across cultures and contexts. Can design of social systems account for these distances or mitigate the struggles of working across them?
Mon, Apr 19
Shared awareness
Social translucence is about designing what social information we make visible to others, what information has central vs peripheral awareness, and what we become accountable for as a result (I know that you know that I know...) This visibility can be negotiated, sometimes even with technology itself as justification. Finally, configuring what is "shared" changes when moving from a centralized space for social activity to a networked or personally filtered one.
Present Assignment 1
Assignment 1 write-up due before class.
Wed, Apr 21
Authenticity, vulnerability, and identity
An important aspect of social computing system design is designing capabilities for identity expression and management. In time, we've gone from visions of a "identity-less utopia" in the days of the early internet to more recently, Facebook's "Real Name" policy. So should systems enforce any aspect of identity? What meta-data can an individual associate with an account, what aspects are salient in presentation to different audiences, and how expressive, flexible, and controllable is that presentation? How much can we be authentically and fluidly ourselves given certain technical designs?
Mon, Apr 26
Augmenting and regulating self-expression
Social technologies today make design decisons and provide tools that shape indviduals' self-expression or self-presentation, either on their behalf or with their control. They also regulate what kinds of self-expression are not permitted. Once deployed to the public and widely adopted, such digitally-mediated self-expression can result in feedback loops that alter societal expectations, particularly when technical interventions are opaque.
Wed, Apr 28
Curation, amplification, and delivery of social content
As the amount of social content increases, the curation of that content for individuals burdened with information overload becomes paramount. There are many ways to reduce this burden. Senders could be more selective about whom they send to. Receivers could configure what they want to receive. Groups of people could collectively decide what is desired versus not. Because this can be burdensome too, algorithms could try to learn these things to do them on behalf of people. That last strategy is common now on many platforms but introduces new problems.
Present mid-point project update
Submit project update and literature review
Mon, May 3
Agency, inclusivity, and ownership
Instead of builders imposing designs on users, what would it mean to design so that user agency and consent comes first? Instead of designers encoding a singular way of communicating into technology, what if social systems allowed for people and groups to come up with their own designs and tailor it to their needs? How much is this feasible for users to do on their own vs by communicating their requirements to members of their community with programming skills?
Wed, May 5
Encouraging newcomers and motivating contribution
One of the first problems for any online social space is getting it off the ground. Even when a community is established, it is still important to invite and bring in new members or else the community may stagnate and eventually become like a "ghost town". How can social computing systems be designed to motivate or incentivize contribution?
Present Assignment 2
Assignment 2 write-up due before class
Mon, May 10
Cultivating norms
In every social setting, there are norms about what is acceptable behavior. In a highly homogeneous and exclusive setting, norms may not need to be spoken. But in open, diverse, and more inclusive settings, norms need to be visible and regularly and transparently enacted in order to be broadly known and followed. The work of cultivating norms in an online social space involves both design of tools as well as the human labor of community leaders.
Wed, May 12
Conflict resolution and sanctions
Even in the days of MUDs, USENET newsgroups, and mailing lists, all the way to today, online social systems have had to contend with anti-social, disruptive, and harassing behavior within their communities. What should be done when someone violates the rules or norms in an online social setting? How should a community address interpersonal conflicts that arise?
Mon, May 17
Governance structures
Zooming out from the design of how to enforce or notify about rules is the broader question of how rules get made and who has the power to participate in rule-making---questions of governance. While some social technologies have encoded alternative governance structures, the majority of online social systems have some sort of autocratic or technocratic structure with designated roles for administrators and moderators and over the long term, ossified leadership, as opposed to democracy.
Present Assignment 3
Assignment 3 write-up due before class
Wed, May 19
Platform governance and policy
The design of policy and technology goes hand in hand to affect use. Today, we live in a world of "platform-ized" social spaces online, with a handfull of private companies that each have massive user populations. In this environment, the governance of and governance by these platforms have huge ramifications for society and public discourse. What could we change about policy or about technology to make platforms more accountable to society?
Mon, May 24
Contested public spheres
Hallin's spheres and the Overton window are both theories to describe a range of public consensus on political topics. As more people move online and into large, public platforms where everyone has the capability to command a megaphone and find like-minded people, some of these people will seek to use that power to push an agenda. When that agenda is to spread disinformation or further polarization and mistrust, is there anything we can do counter that with design?
Wed, May 26
Collective and civic action
Despite threats to democracy posed by social technologies, these spaces can also be an exciting avenue to further collective and civic action in a democratic society. Social technologies can enable grassroots political movements to grow that push for cultural and political change and also involve more people in the process of governing by inviting greater public input and deliberation. Many social technologies used for these purposes weren't built with them in mind. Could they better support these goals?
Present Assignment 4
Assignment 4 write-up due before class
Mon, May 31
Memorial Day (no class)

All these opportunities for greater participation enabled by social technologies in principle help to shift the power balance from implementors, governors, and designers towards the people who are actually affected by the decisions that people in power make. However in practice, sometimes "participation-washing" can be extractive and disempowering. Other times, a great deal of participation results in no outcome. How can design of social technologies support not just the elicitation of opinions and dialogue but also the converging of a group of people towards consensus, solution, or action?
Wed, June 2
Final Project Presentations
Project should be wrapping up. Presentation of finished work in class.