Project Discussion Part I: The Thought That Counts

Hello everyone, and today we begin talking about how I begin making the project. We could easily be talking about if someone had an idea to do something similar, so it’s not all about me.

Firstly, we need to think about if there’s any opportunity for doing something like this. We take all the things we’ve learned from the previous posts and utilize them.

Q: What is your project idea?

My idea is to develop an online platform/social network hybrid that is inspired by the design of Valve Corporation’s Steam system. Steam acts as an online space for distribution, commerce and communication between its user base, providing them the service and tools to make things happen.

I want to use the same idea of providing a service and tools, but for a completely different audience. My chosen audience is within academia. In a profession that prides itself on knowledge and communication, I believe that a system in the same vein as Steam, Facebook or any other social network, would really benefit this process. The internet allows for such connections to take place, which is a factor that Valve would have considered when they were faced with this choice.

This proposed idea would allow academics, scholars and researchers a service to share, communicate and collaborate on various projects of their own. Many research projects (which become journals or books) are the result of such connections taking place between members.

The system, called ‘Academic’s Playground,’ would feature elements that make Steam so collaborative. These include the ‘Workshop’ and ‘Greenlight’ options, which allows community members to develop and showcase their own work. In parallel similarity to academia, theses works are either conducted by a lone individual, or within larger groups.

Clearly, the Steam community is active and creative and Valve supports community development. In my system, I’d like to implement a similar feature which allows people to do the same. Instead, I would have a ‘Lab’ option, which combines to two Steam elements together. This Lab feature will be where people are doing their R and D, running like how Steam lets people manage their works.

The usual network elements are also present, such as Profiles and Home Pages, which help structure the site. Aside from giving a space for people to communicate, it will also give people a chance to ‘express themselves’ with their own information.

Q: What is the reasoning behind this idea?

In the age, there is only one ‘space’ large enough to handle the mass of communication every day. We are, of course, talking about the internet itself. Every big business or institution uses it to get themselves ‘heard’ as we increasing become online. Academia is as much dependent on the internet where communication and collaboration between academics/students is integral to R and D.

The reasoning behind is that we are ever dependent on the internet to get things done. Valve saw an opportunity to develop their online system (when online gaming was relatively young)  in order to maximize publicity for the upcoming Half life 2. Therefore, an opportunity presents itself.

Perhaps the real crux of Steam is the ability to communicate.  We are looking at a system that provides a service and tools for its user in order to operate as themselves. They create their profiles, add friends, post comments. None of this is new, but serves a purpose that by giving people an incentive to continue to use your system. If you cannot provide, they will not use your system.

Q: Who is your audience?

There are many different social networks that are geared to different professions. Facebook is for general/social relationships, whilst LinkedIn is mainly for business networking. But there is a base for those with educational purposes. We’ve taken a look at few (Diipo, TeachAde), but we can be sure many more exists.

In a bid to modernise, schools and universities are becoming more online. We’ve seen teaching aids implementing an online concept. We’ve got universities that are completely online already, and schools are using dedicated educational social networks to help in the classroom.

Q: What is the point of this?

A slightly skewed version of number 2, and yes, there is a point to choosing to design for academics. Let’s be honest, half the books and journals wouldn’t have been published without some form of collaboration between the authors. If you noticed that many texts involves members from different institutions working together on often long, complex research projects. Now they had to have collaborated somehow.

Creating a system that ‘unifies’ academics together, in the same way Steam groups online gamers together, would be beneficial in creating a community. A community is an important feature in social networks. As humans, we have the urge to be social, to talk and make connections.

My vision is to allow people to easier communicate with other people, to share, comment and showcase work or research findings, and to collaborate on a certain project. Being within a community, it can be easier to collaborate with like-minded people. People separated geographically can still be active.

In terms of allowing tools for learning and understanding, we must look towards the use of social networks. In this blog, we’ve discussed what they are and how they work. They allow relatively easy communications between their sometimes vast user base, which is one of the reasons why I decided to look this way. They are also incredibly good at creating online communities, which is almost crucial to sustaining the network.

Q: What will, or do people get out of this?

An important consideration needs to be to thought about in terms of people’s investment and time. What do people get out of using it? Sadly, there’s no money to give away for people. But I hoped they weren’t motivated solely by cash.

When I think about what people get in return, I think about what designers and modders get in Steam. True, sometimes they get a financial return from Valve for their work if it’s high quality. But I’d wager that they are more pleased to see their work become official to Valve’s games. Very well-designed items have the reward of being implemented into a game for use by other players.

Determining what is well-designed is not just down to Valve’s decision. Community members frequently comment and rate others’ works, using either a star rating or positive reviews. The more coverage one’s work gets, the more it gets prominence.

For my system, I would like to use a similar style. For my system, I believe what people will get out of it is the ‘two Rs:’ respect and recognition. Academics love seeing their own works published and used by others. Don’t tell me they’re a modest bunch! Fact is, we all love our works being out in the open.

Respect and recognition amongst your peers…is a positive thing. To research and develop an integral piece of work that helps people understand a topic deserves some praise. I’ve seen academics use others in their own work as cited sources. Why is that? Because they’ve seen that their work is important enough to include in the discussion.

My system would allow for people to showcase their works like modders do on Steam. Others can comment too, sparking discussions if need be.

Q: How will this be achieved?

Steam functions as a separate system from the internet. Essentially, it gets installed onto the computer as its own program, but uses the internet to operate. The system is written in C++ and Objective-C languages.

Since these are beyond me, my system will most likely be a website interface. In order to realise this, the first step is to design a wireframe sketch. This will be discussed more the in the next post, but what it allows people to do is draw their design, which helps to visual how things work and how the user interacts with elements. It’s an important step in any design process; planning always is.

There also needs to be consideration into how exactly the site will be layout. What I mean is where to do things go, where are they positioned? Such questions can be answered using the wireframe because it’s important to understand that the user needs to have an easy time using it. Once we’ve achieved this part, we can look into designing it proper.

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