Social Writing Initial Reflections

We've been using our Social Writing design in the office this week (I previously introduced it here).

Initial Observations

The simple LED prototype is visible enough. If you deliberately look at it, as it is placed between two of ours desks, it is easy to see it and activity. When we paste our work into Slack, the system counts it immediately and the LEDs react within seconds. The interface does not distract or steal attention. If you are not engaging with the system, it's easy to ignore it and its activity. 

As we arrive into the office we check the system. Part of the responsibility of designing this involves checking up on it, making sure it's being powered and working out any potential technical difficulties. This perhaps enforces us to be more engaged with the system than other users would be who are not involved in its creation and maintenance.


Catalyzing Action

The system is catalyzing action - we are motivated to write more. We are mindful of the LEDs being switched off - indicating that we have not completed our daily goal. We want to complete this easy daily goal of 200 words we have established for ourselves. But that is not enough. The want itself doesn't directly turn into action. However, it has found its own way of working. By each having the same goal and motivation, we are cued to open a discussion about writing. "Let's have a writing session" we say, as Robert begins some classical music and I start a Pomodoro timer. I can say with certainty that we would have had these writing sessions without the Social Writing system.

Building Habits

If we can say that so far that Social Writing is catalyzing us to write, what effect will this have in the long term? Will we be dependent on this system or will it support long term behavior change? These are impossible to definitively answer, but I think this system will support lasting habit changes. Our initial motivation to write might be catalyzed by the system, arguably using extrinsic motivation and social pressures. However, speaking for myself at least, the process of writing is extremely rewarding. After being cued into writing, I find it enjoyable very quickly. Although I feel rewarded by having the LED turned on, it's really the accomplishment of having written that I feel great about. If I get into the habit of writing, I believe I will keep at it because I find it rewarding on its own right. I believe that after using this system I will have enough intrinsic motivation that I have been sensitized to that will keep me writing without the Social Writing system.

Reducing Pressure

I have noticed at least one downside with the system so far. When the LEDs turn on, I get a sense that I have accomplished my goal for the day. I no longer have any pressure to write. This is good if I have accomplished enough, but perhaps too under-encouraging if I have not. The momentum I have built while writing for the daily goal keeps me working on other productive activities (such as level design for a game I am working on), but without the joint writing with my peers I am not compelled to keep writing. Achieving so far about 600 words each session though might be enough. Quality is more important than quantity after all. It's interesting coming back to the design goal of this system - it is not about writing more, it's about engaging in the writing process. Perhaps we should also experiment with self-setting individual daily goals, while keeping in mind not to turn this into a competition.

What's Next

Call to action

As we found ourselves socially creating writing sessions to meet our daily goals, we thought it would be helpful to have an extension to Social Writing to support this, especially given the distributed nature of the design where not everyone is able to set up group Pomodoros or writing sessions. To achieve this, we will add the "call to action" button. This is effectively start a 30 minute timer that is shared with all of the distributed offices. With the timer on, a blinking LED and possibly a starting and finishing buzzer, indicate to writers that "we are now writing". Feel free to join in and press the button yourself to make sure the timer is reset to include you arriving late. It is our hope that this button will give us the option to engage in the process of writing, as opposed to the goal of having written. The timer is not enforced and does not require participation, it is merely a cue, an invitation to start writing because others have committed to.

International Set Up

Finally we are setting up Social Writing internationally. This will be very exciting to have more writers participating, but also writers from different time zones. What will it mean to arrive at the office and the LED is already on, indicating that they have already completed their daily goals? When is it fair to reset daily goals? Do we manage time zones separately? These are things to find out, but the infrastructure in our node.js backend is there to support it all. Furthermore it will be exciting to have more cross-pollination to different research topics.