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Design Research on Social Computing

May 11th, 2012

In the era of social networking and computing, the creation of intelligent systems, products, and related services in a social context is facing a number of technology supported social challenges.

  • Social computing as a platform for service centric design. The merge of the Web of People and the Internet of things leads to a shift from product or system oriented design to service centric design. Systems, products and the related services are more connected than ever. Products have become the terminals of the services and systems have become the platforms to deliver the services. Social computing started in late 1990’s and early 2000’s serving as platforms not only for sharing online content and conversation, but also for processing the content of social interaction and feeding back into systems. The feedback into the systems has become quicker, driven by a more flattened and bottom-up social structure. Along with this development products with embedded connectivity and identification technologies have become part of the Internet of Things, and with embedded sensing technology these products have been integrated into people’s lives in a more adaptive and social manner.
  • Social computing as a platform for social innovation. The growth and development of distributed and pervasive computing, social networks and mobile technologies have dramatically increased the complexity of the systems, products and the related services, but also the complexity of the design itself. Social computing that merges the Web of People and the Internet of things, on the other hand, brings up new solutions against the complexity, towards social innovation, by harvesting the collective intelligence from the Web of People, including the designers, the users and the organizations, and the collective intelligence from the Internet of Things, in order to realize greater value from the interaction between people and things, which in turn, inventing innovative and hopefully also sustainable ways of living. In this context, design has become a social activity – design is a result of social innovation; design drives social innovation and leads social transformation.
  • Social computing as a “simulation” platform for design. The new development of social computing, especially in the interweaving integration of the Web of People and the Internet of Things, gives the opportunity to bring design much closer to the end users, to other stakeholders and to its social and situational context. It sheds a promising amount of lights on improving the validation process of design, as computational simulation has done to electrical and mechanical engineering when computer was introduced to these disciplines.
  • Social computing as a competency and as a tool for design education. New types of designers have to be equipped with systematic understanding and perspectives, be competent in utilizing the social computing platforms to harvest the creativity, the input and the feedback through social interaction. The developments also bring up new opportunities in utilizing social computing technologies in facilitating the learning to make learning a more effective and more enjoyable social experience.

All these challenges imply that research and design in creating intelligent systems, products and related services have to pay attention to the area of social computing as a platform for social interaction and innovation. Traditional new product design and development methods and tools to deal with these new challenges become insufficient when dealing with the shift towards service centric design, the power from the flattened and bottom-up social structure, and the complexity of the social system of people and things. Adaptivity of the intelligent systems and services has to be reinvestigated in the context of social computing and social innovation in a larger scale eco-system in which the Web of People and the Internet of things are interwoven. The ambition of  this research area is to support the creation of intelligent systems, products and related services in a societal context from the perspective of social computing.

The research area of social computing shall confront aforementioned challenges, focusing in social computing not just as a technology, but more importantly as an enabler (a platform or a tool) in a design context.

Social computing is firstly seen as the computational facilitation of service centric design that integrates the Web of People with the Internet of things, that shortens the feedback loop in adaptive systems and services, and that enables the service to be carried out in in a more flattened and bottom up social structure. With the facilitation service design can be carried out in an interactive and sustainable process. In this process data and input can be collected social interaction among the uses and the stakeholders and from the behavior of the users and the products, analyzed and quickly or directly fed back to the process. There is a need to investigate how to tightly combine and coordinate these computational, physical and social elements to facilitate the service and the design process of it.

Social computing is also seen as a computational platform for social innovation. The aim of the research in this respect is to develop methods, tools and techniques based on social computing to support design as social innovation and design for social innovation. In the case of design as social innovation, the research shall investigate how social computing can be used to support the collaborative design activities by the designers as well as other stakeholders including the end users and to enable collective creativity and intelligence in dealing with the complexity of the systems of today. In the case of design for social innovation, the research shall investigate how to use social computing for design to trigger and support social innovation that leads to societal transformations, by introducing design perspectives and design intervention in a social context.

Social computing could be used for validating design in earlier phases of the process. It is interesting to investigate how social computing could be utilized as a “simulation” platform for earlier concepts – in this case physical prototypes might be still be necessary but the situational context (people, other things and the environment) can be brought in or closer in order to quest the concept earlier.

The perspective and the competency of using social computing as an enabler in design should be implemented in the design education if the aim of the education is creating intelligent systems, products and related services in a social context. This research area should investigate how this can be carried out in a competency-centered learning process, and how to utilize the social computing technologies to facilitate this process.

Social computing is a research area that is at the intersection of computational systems and social behavior. This research area shall be able to employ engineering and empirical research methodologies, or a research-through-design approach, depending on the subject under investigation. As examples,

  • Social computing can be used to empower end-users, for example in the medical field, where patients get faster and more accurate information about their personal health status, exchange experiences, and keep track of the performance of medical institutions. The research question is how to design such social computing systems, and how to measure their performance, which includes the perceived quality. The measurement instruments themselves will be designed as social computing tools (on-line questionnaires, on-line data and relation logging, network-oriented data visualization, distributed data mining, and crowd wisdom).
  • Not only the end-users will change their way of working, also the design community itself will change when adopting the power of social computing. The effect is already visible in the communities around Arduino, Processing, and DIY 3D printers. Whereas most of the present-day tools are still traditional editors, compilers and CAD tools, the next generation of tools will be designed as social computing tools. This asks for a research-through-design approach: creating new tools, co-creating and sharing them inside the design community, and evaluate their performance and perceived quality with appropriately designed new tools. State-of-the-art software engineering methods will be deployed to bootstrap the design of these new tools.

This research is expected to contribute to the strategic areas around key societal issues: Energy, Health, and Smart Mobility. The social aspect of the research shall be linked to at least one of these issues. Application-wise the design research on social computing can easily be integrated with health and care by bring in the power of social bounding and support for the new generation of social networks and the ageing society in which the resource of the formal care is limited. Possibilities in contributing to other areas shall be considered, for example the environment and energy domain offers many opportunities for exploring crowd shifting techniques and social intelligence in systems design; social networking can provide ad-hoc yet real time information from the drivers and vehicles for a more efficient traffic, for a safer journey, or for a better experience on move.

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