Conversational Enclosures

Project Type: Interaction Design, Web Design

Conversational Enclosures

As our midterm project for Clay Shirky's Designing Conversational Spaces class, a collaboration between ITP and NYU's journalism department, we were interested in redirecting the anger, prejudice, and vitriolic language that often emerges in political discussions online by limiting conversations about a controversial topic to 2 participants, though their debate is openly viewable by the public.

Our hypotheses:
If you make people talk one-on-one: they will be nicer to each other
If people are more civil: the quality of the debate will be higher
If you can only "like" the conversation itself: the quality of the debate will be higher
If we give them limited time to respond: they will respond more promptly

What we found was that users were indeed more civil in their conversations, but they also seemed less engaged, and because of the timers, most conversations died before they reached any sort of conclusion. There were also very few intense debates because overall it seemed like we didn't attract a wide range of viewpoints across the political spectrum; most of our users seemed to be liberals, and as a classmate suggested, that may have been in part because our prompt was not the kind of question we should have been asking conservatives.

Note: While the rest of us moved on to work on other sites for the final project, Niel continued with this project (and recruited 2 others to help him), so the current you+me+politics site is not entirely reflective of the state it was in while I was still a member of the team.