Is it necessary to design against homophyli and the logic of affinity?

We have recently updated the P2P Encyclopedia entry on Protocollary Power,which indicates how power is now hidden/exhibited in the design and architecture of social software, where it can constrain the freedom of individual agents.

Related to this is a blog entry which discusses homophyli, defined as the phenomenon where we associate with like individuals because we share like experience. This logic of affinity is not always a good thing, since it can promote inequality, as in housing or schooling choices, where the rich congregate in private schools and gated communities.

In a social software context, designers should decide whether they consider homophyli to be a feature or a bug … Read the whole entry for an idea of such counter-homophyli design possibilities, here’s just an introductory quote.


“Life is easy when you’re unchallenged: this is why people read the New York Times or watch Fox News or even just watch the 5pm news (the one with the deaths taken out) instead of the 7pm (the one that’s all death). Do you accept that your audience wants to be around people like them and that your job is to make that as easy as possible? NYT and Fox News show that it can certainly be a path to financial success.

If you don’t buy into homophily completely, what can you do? Recommendations increase your pool of interest in very short steps. To break homophily, recommend something for reasons other than “this meshes very tightly with your profile”. This seems heretical at first: the whole logic behind recommendations is to guess at items the user will probably like. But it has to happen. For you to identify their complete region of interests, you necessarily have to show them things in and out of that region. If you prematurely narrow in, you’ll end up only showing them stories about melting Antarctic ice shelves without connecting to the rest of environmental, travel, or scientific stories that they’re really interested in. The best way to make those connections is to mix it up.”

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