Monthly Archives: October 2012

An Interesting Read: ID Construction on Facebook

I am starting exploring a very possible topic of my thesis: building an online identity management tool. Though my focus will be put more on the design and development of the tool, it is essential to understand theories and current practice of online identity management.

Last weekend, I came across a very interesting and informative paper researching online identity construction on Facebook: Zhao, S., Grasmuck, S., & Martin, J. (2008). Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(5), 1816–1836. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2008.02.012. As published in 2008, this paper is an early effort to research on online identity management in the context of nonymous Social Networking Sites (SNS).

Important things to notice before reading: the Facebook in 2012 is quite different from the version back in 2008. The most important difference is that now Facebook is not entirely nonymous: you can create fake account and you don’t have to be a college students. However, my interests will still be on those who use SNS to extend offline life and communication, and thus will need so called “identity management”; but not those who creates forged identities that have nothing to do with their offline presentation.

Back to this paper. The methods they used are content analysis of Facebook accounts and follow-up structured interviews. The literature review part of this paper gives very comprehensive review of theories of identity construction. I will list some important ones here as an index that can help to go back to the paper:

  • “Identity is an important part of the self-concept. … and identity is that part of the self ‘by which we are known to others’ (Altheide, 2000, p.2)”
  • Construction of identity = identity announcement & identity placement. Identity announcement is made by the individual to claim who she is while identity placement is made by others to endorse the claim. When there is intersection between identity announcement and identity placement, this intersection will be the constructed identity.
  • Difference between identity construction through localized interactions and online interactions: here the authors discussed the famous work from Goffman (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life). Basically the localized (offline) interactions place many constrains to hinder individuals from displaying inconsistent selves while anonymous online environment detaches the embodiment of an individual and frees one to present a totally new self. This new mode of presenting a “hidden self” online shows the ability of Internet to empower identity construction.
  • A nonymous online environment is between those two extremes discussed above, since it is built upon offline relationships. The authors coined the term “anchored relationships” to describe this kind of offline-based online relationships. In this anchored online relationships, people are nonymous online and can be traced to their offline identities. Unlike anonymous online society, this nonymous online environment also places constraints on identity claims.
  • The authors then introduced the concepts of “now selves” and “possible selves”. The previous one is who you are in others’ eyes right now and the latter refers to who you want to be in the possible future, which is an image unknown to others at this stage (Markus and Nurius, 1986). They then argued that the nonymous online environment differs from localized interactions and anonymous online environment, in that it empowers a new self-presentation as “hoped-for possible selves“.
  • The concept of this “hoped-for possible selves” is so important that I list it alone here and quoted the definition given in this paper: “Hoped-for possible selves are socially desirable identities an individual would like to establish and believes that they can be established given the right conditions” (p.1819).
  • As the authors review the dating-site (as a form of nonymous sites) research, they found that these nonymous dating sites provide opportunities to users to make public “identity statements“, which can be implicit and explicit. This is an important path for people to construct the “hoped-for possible” selves that are not known offline.

The results of the paper are discussed based upon these theoretical framework covered in the literature review. The major findings are two fold. First, the identity statements form a continuum of implicit to explicit claims. At one end, people adopt “showing without telling” strategy, using visual presentations such as photos to present themselves. This is an implicit way, which is the most common among participants. At the other end of explicit expression, people use narrative format to tell and label themselves. This is the least popular among participants. In between, there is an enumerative way to show the “cultural self” through listing one’s tastes on movies, songs, and hobbies etc. Second, the authors examined the types of self claims. Most participants chose to project themselves as “socially desirable” and hid pessimistic personas and academic identities. Though most results fit the hypothesis of showing the “hoped-for possible” selves that are positive, they did find some presented some types of “hidden selves”, through publishing “superficial or hedonistic images”, “less socially sanctioned” quotes, and “sexually provocative statements”.

Some reflections: As mentioned in the discussion part, living in this nonymous online environments, online and offline world is not separated anymore. The negative “hidden selves” being shown online is exactly the reason why we want to build this online identity management tool. People, especially students need to learn how to coordinate their identity claims in online and offline worlds, since they are highly connected. The “hoped-for possible selves” could be the ideal image we would like people to cast online. In my previous study of identity construction on another popular SNS Twitter, I also found the similar strategy continuum of implicit claims to explicit claims, which is very exciting. After reading is paper, I have several research ideas: 1. As suggested in this paper, we should compare the “objective” coding of online content with the “subjective” self-reported online identity construction methods. Basically compare “what people thought they did” with “what they actually did”.  2. Continue my previous study of identity construction on Twitter and compare it with the case on Facebook. To better compare, it will be better if the participants group are comparable. Understanding how people are presenting themselves online helps to discover areas that are commonly failing and yelling “SOS”.

Progress in Learning Interaction Design

Since I didn’t discover any highlight that I want to share with you here this week, I decided to jot down a brief record of my progress in learning interaction design.

With a more-than-7-year engineering background, I am not a typical “design” person, in terms of making things in a visually appealing fashion. However, my decision to make user experience designer as my career goal is not irrational or impulsive: because I know design for user experience is much more than visual elements, but includes deep empathy, and sensitivity to details, and requires a mind of systematic thinking. I am quite confident that my past and current academic training gave me a good foundation on these, and I will approach this career from a different perspective and skill-set compared to those visual designers or industry designers out there. But I am also fully aware that I need to pick up handy tools to turn my understanding of the users into an interactive and testable product. That’s the reason I am trying to devote some time learning technical skills to render different stages of prototypes.

Things I’ve been up to are: using photoshop to do wireframe and low-/ high-fidelity prototyping; leaning elements that should be sliced from photoshop to be used in frontend coding versus elements should be written just in HTML and CSS; learning HTML, CSS, and jQuery to build interactable websites. With other course work load and research work load, learning these parallel is a challenge and opportunity for me. The best lesson I learned along the way is: learn it when you need it; practice it once you learn it. With several projects in the line, I am pushed to pick up necessary skills as needing them for the projects. This has been an efficient learning journey for me since I don’t typically work in this way as a more “theory”-oriented person. I kept quick notes of handy skills and tried to practice them as soon as having a chance. I tried out different ideas, for both practicing newly-learned skills and preparing alternatives for the design.

Nearly 2 months have passed and I am making progress gradually. Now I would probably call myself a guru in Photoshop for Web design (not for creating arts or decorating photographs, though). I am glad that I figured out what my standpoint and my contribution could be to the UX design area, and I am acquiring corresponding knowledge and skills. I might not become a talented visual designer in my life, but I can really be a good UX designer who always have users in her mind, turn her understanding to product prototypes, and test & improve them constantly.

Finally, is a great resource I would like to recommend to everyone who wants to learn web design and development. Dig up the university’s database, hopefully you can get these great tutorials for free.

A Fun Video about UX, with More Thoughts Following

I came across this fun video persuading people to adopt user experience work into production streamline:

While it is always fun to watch videos with hand-drawing comics and I always have my thumbs up for integrating user experience components into product development, this video leaves some un-articulated questions behind the good-looking ROI. Things are just not that simple and straight-forward.

First, what to fix?
Before any sort of redesign, there should be intense usability studies to figure out the existing usability issues with assigned severity ratings. Because we need to figure out, in this case, what are the reasons caused those 50 customers leaving the website without donation. Further more, among all the reasons, there are some with higher severity level, which if fixed can result in major improvements; while others are minor, probably only contribute to 10% of the abandon problems. In this case, cost in terms of money and time should be considered by the business to decide to what degree these issues should be addressed at this time. It will be account for the estimates of the investment of redesigning and coding the website.
To read more about severity ratings:

Second, what to measure?
It is seldom the case, if any, that the user experience improvements can bring all the lost customers back. Measurements are necessary and essential to evaluation the investment. Don’t forget that measurement itself costs man power and money, and monitoring the wrong metrics is a waste and can cause slow reactions to the market. @jmspool today wrote an interesting article to discuss the concept of KPI: Key Performance Indicator. To recap, there are three important characteristics of a good metric: related, important, and predictive.

Glad to see the importance of UX is more and more acknowledged, which encourages me as a student, a beginner on this path. Through today’s exploration, I felt I am still lacking experience regarding to the evaluation part though I had some scattered project experience. Will put more efforts on this part in the future projects and thesis work.