Digital Design for generosity

Look under your sits you all get everything!

As all great things this line of thought started with a conversation about text.

But this one quickly turned into a discussion about the design for generosity. Something that really strikes a chord with me. It probably has to do with the fact that when trying to push something towards new you start to think how can the thing you create function without you.

In case of physical art, somehow this question is not such an issue — the object of art you created exists. But in case of digital objects they are actually imaginary as they have no actual physical presence — so where will they be stored, how will they be stored, who can have access, who will uphold. Such a thing becomes really a question of money and true will (even Wikipedia has to constantly ask for additional public support). Also a statue will never need electricity to be seen.

Also a piece in a museum has a guard standing there and public presence of others giving a restriction on you to change the object. While in digital such things do not exist, you log in on your own, browse it on your own, so there is no collective presence of what is right what is wrong. Meaning no clear lines on what is acceptable what is not. You can be the creator of your space. And the fact is that it is way easier to change this space — example here, than lets say public space (yes you do have Banksy, but how many of them can there be, once you have one — which means that the real world actually does not allow for a lot of creative freedom with its own structure).

My favourite pieces from the article of Peter Robinson it would be the following:

/…/ On the design of generosity:

Indeed,one can see the whole internet, as first founded in the late 60s, as an instance of design for generosity:from the outset, the internet was designed so that it could be infinitely extensible. Berners-Lee built on,and extended yet further, this design for generosity,by lowering the barriers so that web pages can be made and published with minimal resources. In recent years, the new giants of this post-industrial age, Facebook and Google, have built vast empires on this model, on the calculation that giving away their key technologies so that people could make web pages or find what they want on the web would create business opportunities down the line: a gamble so successful that in a few years they became among the most valuable companies in history.

/…/On generosity itself:

Generosity means more than the right to feel that others are not appropriating your work. It means a gift with no conditions.

/…/On the right to be a lolcat:

Shirky (2010a) epitomizes this aspect of generosity by ‘lolcats’: if we enable creative collaboration by design for generosity, acts of the highest civic value may come — but so too may come ‘the stupidest possible creative act’, a lolcat. You cannot, he insists, have one without the other. Within the academy, we may cast this as the difference between a‘collaboration’, with an agenda which precludes what its leaders regard as wrong, and a ‘community’, where individual members may act in very different, and often opposing ways.


I think the article nicely shows the issue with collaborations. The fact that just linking people together in a collaboration does not always lead to the fact: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The rhetoric: we are all in this to make something together, is not enough for really good things that would benefit the users to come out of it (example quartos.www).

I do think collaborations should be designed with certain values in place to avoid those mistakes that make you question the point of the collaborations in the first place.

An interesting read on values in design:

And on actual hard issues in collaborations in digital spaces in case of the Lionhead Studio The inside story — how they bankrupted. A AAA game is in a way a digital edition of a text in an interactive way.

A great collaboration feels like everyone fuses together in a very clear goal or at least in this line of action towards something yet unknown. It feels like a great improvisation where each knows what to add to other without knowing, because each is there with the purpose of actually being there.

But improvisation always has an audience to adapt to. And sometimes I feel when reading somethings that they were written because nobody actually had the time to ask: why are we doing this?

Well I guess its hard to know the feeling of how not to do it for the applause, after practicing for the applause.