What we need, right, is a big volume control for Ambient Intimacy

If you’re designing a social application at the moment, think about how you can be quiet.

This is just one of a million pleas from socially networked people everywhere who are going to great efforts to manage the noise that their networked applications are generating at times when they really need some quiet time to focus.

Some systems (ahem, FaceBook) can be VERY noisy and make the process of quietening more difficult than it needs to be.

Facebook Notifications

Others seem simpler, but the lack of ‘friends management’ tools mean that you can be a lot noisier than perhaps you’d like to be.


But – perhaps the biggest challenge of all is that there are soooo many different systems we need to dial down – just when you think you’ve got them all, something else sneaks through to interrupt you.

Imagine if there was one panel somewhere that all of your noisy applications could hook into and then a big volume control that you can adjust based on how available you are to your network. (Is there some kind of a microformat we can make for this Jeremy?)

So when you’re super busy and you need to focus, you can, with minimal effort, dial down the noise to allow you to concentrate. And when you’re hanging out and are completely open to connections – dial it back up again.

Kind of like how you need different levels and types of ambient noise to match various activities in your day. (In my my presentation on Ambient Intimacy at Reboot I suggested an important challenge for ‘social designers’ was to think more about how to design for ambience in social applications).

In the meantime… until we get this great big volume control… let’s those of us who are designing social applications be thoughtful about this particular user requirement. Let’s make sure it’s easy for our users to quieten us down, and then pump us back up again.

Otherwise they’ll keep banging on about this attention scarcity thing even more and switch us off altogether.

Innies and Outies


I’ve been thinking on this a little bit lately. I’m just about to make some more changes at work, and I have to admit, for a while there I was toying with becoming an ‘innie’.

There is something quite seductive about having the access to resources that innies have that outies never really get. Especially if you work somewhere really big. You might also get to work on stuff that *really* matters, that makes a difference to lots of peoples lives every day. This is pretty powerful stuff.

But… at the end of the day… you only get to work on more or less the same stuff, month after month. You can look forward six months into the future and have a fairly good idea of what you’ll be doing. This, for me, is the downside.

That, and I was never really sure that I wanted to back one company hard enough to commit to them with full time employment. (And they say men are the ones with commitment issues!)

Yes, I’ve been an outie almost all my career. I started off as an innie, but that job ended with a retrenchment (which I think was a good thing and I’m pretty sure didn’t scare me off the innie thing). And I’ve just chosen, again, to be as outie as you possible can be – to freelance.

(For those of you *completely* lost by this innie/outie business – an ‘innie’ is someone who works within a company as an Information Architect, Interaction Designer, User Researcher, etc. An ‘outie’, on the other hand, consults or works for a consultancy, and does IA, IxD etc. on a project by project basis usually as contracted by the large company.)

Are innies and outies different kinds of people? I think, perhaps, they are.

Innies must surely have a lot of patience for internal politics. In many cases, they have a slow moving ship they need to gradually turn around. They need to work very hard, often, to make the business aware of their presence and their importance, and to be able to get involved with the decision making early enough to do their job. They need persistence. They need to be happy to work with the same people for long stretches, even if those people cause them great frustration. They need to be able to deal with bureaucracy that often flies in the face of what they are trying to achieve.

Where innies must manage lack of change, many outies have the opposite problem – never ending flux. They not only have to adapt to new projects but often whole new industries every few months. New teams of people to work with, new sets of politics, new priorities, new objectives, new obstacles, new challenges. Often times they have the same challenges as innies, but they know that these will go away as this project ends and the new one commences. And they can always just fire the client if it gets extreme. Outies, as a rule, require more developed ‘consultancy’ skills – the ability to ‘manage’ clients, to sell ideas, to gain confidence in their abilities and their approach.

I was recently at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston where I’d been invited to speak. There were a lot of ‘innies’ at that conference. A lot of big company innies. I have to say, by and large, it made me happy to be an outie. I felt that being an outie makes me more agile, more connected, more responsive – I feel a drive to keep in touch with what the rest of the world is doing, where I got the distinct feeling that there was a lot more navel gazing (sorry) going on amongst the innies, and that when they did look outwards, they never looked too far.

Sure, their projects may be the really large important ones. They may might be building a space shuttle. But perhaps some part of the innovative work that I was able to do on a much less ‘important’ project will one day feed into the design of a very important project. Who knows… maybe one day they’ll outsource the space shuttle? :)

It is my suspicion that, even if you have worked as both an innie or an outie, you know which one of these you *really* are. That you’re more one than the other.

I suspect that having the experience on both sides is a very valuable thing. Perhaps I should do more ‘innie’ work. But, at the end of the day… I’m most definitely an outtie, and that’s how I do my best work.

How about you?

Image Credit: Mr Truffle @ Flickr

links for 21 June 2007