Community Building on the Web

Amy Jo Kim

An ancient and outfashioned book on early website design in the late 01990's and early 02000's internet. It is notable for its unique and humanistic method in designing online social spaces, as it was written before the insurgence of online advertising and social network data collection, which changed all newer texts in the field for the worst. It was the book I wish I had a full ten years before I could finally track it down, and its pure-hearted methodology ensures it stills holds up in time, even after the business and the technology have already moved on.

Kim is an... interesting author in this space. She drew the majority of her expertise from being a designer and moderator for early Internet-based MMORPGs. (Ultima Online, if I remember right.) I thought that was what made her approach to matters much more timeless, edging towards a humanistic design of online social spaces, as video games were the one part of computer software development that didn't have the same financialization which could normally be found in Silicon Valley. (... back then, at least.) There is a lot in this book which one wouldn't find in similar texts which were based on purely web-based services, just because of the MMORPG influence.

... however, while I thought Kim to be removed from the financialized basis which modern social media would later develop, it would later turn out that she had a bigger hand in its creation than the written record would otherwise state. Her basis in game design eventually allowed her to become a big pusher of the “gamification” trend, which gave rise to a design of social media based around “scores, badges, and leaderboards.” Yet the introduction of these game-based systems also introduced the ability to abuse them, which contributes (in part) to the feeling of morass and general unpleasantness major social media platforms now contend with. The lead designer for Ultima Online made no bones about they gravely miscalculated the design problems innate to and general tendency towards “griefing,” which now permeates our larger social media as well. Kim was a bigger proponent of this school of design than I was originally led to believe, and only isn't properly credited—or blamed—for it due to another writer plagiarizing her work. ... or so AJK herself once claimed.

I had hoped for a long time that I could use this text as a basis for a kind of cyberspace “back-to-basics” style of design, but despite how much I personally liked this book's once-existing expression of her, Kim was just as subject as anyone else to the forces which ruined the world-wide-web's emancipatory promise. ... a subject which one PhD thesis I know of took considerable pains to point out.

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