Mr. Dark (mr_dark) wrote in lj_biz,
Mr. Dark
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Social Engineering Vs. Computer Engineering?

Considering the other discussions today and recently on lj_biz, I'm seeing a recurring clash between mindsets that needs to be addressed, I think. That clash is between what I'll call the social engineers and the computer engineers.

The social engineers are focused on how people use LJ. How they interact with each other via communities and their own journals, the dynamics and politics involved in the use and content of friends lists and user info, etc.

The computer engineers are focused on the technical design of the site. This applies to UI changes as well as back-end stuff, but in a very different way from the way the social engineers think. They look at developmental priorities based on their own expertise and knowledge of how sites work and how they should be designed as well as basic web design tenets. They base decisions on bleeding edge features and being ready for the next wave of technology with the knowledge that what the masses want isn't always what's good for them.

Now, the point (and it only took me three paragraphs to reach it): I feel that we may (MAY, don't jump me) have a lack of balance between the social engineering mindset and the computer engineering mindset within the LJ development and admin ranks. It seems like most times I see a proposed feature labeled as silly or a waste of time, it's one of the computer engineering types and all too frequently one of the 'LJ insiders', we'll call them. Most of the time, they don't even have a real reason for being against said feature, it's just that it seems silly to them, or that it caters to 'stupid' users, or that it'll be too complex for those same stupid users and create a support problem. They also seem to follow a certain design philosophies that the social engineers don't understand, leading them to staunchly defend certain ideals like 'no false sense of security' or 'all fields should report accurate information'.

In the meantime, you have the social engineers, taking quite a bit of abuse for making reasonible propositions. Hell, even ljdrama.org has chimed in bashing some of the proposed features and those who ask for them, not because they lack merit, but because they seem stupid to the computer engineering mindset.

I'm just concerned that there is an imbalance here, that there isn't enough advocacy for those social engineers amongst the muckamucks that run LJ. And no, 'hey, we all use it too' isn't a valid response. People who are relatively new to the site may use it in an entirely different way than those of us who have been here since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Just because we've been here longer, does that give us the right to completely dismiss the way they use the site?

At the very least, I think everyone (LJ admins and users) is just a little too quick to dismiss the ideas and requests of the social engineering type of thinkers, and a little too harsh much of the time. I'm a software professional, I'm in QA, I'm very familiar with the fact that you sometimes have to tell a client/user 'no' because their idea is foolish. You only do that when their idea is -really- foolish, however. You never tell a client 'you can't have that feature, because I think it's dumb'. If you think it's dumb but it doesn't impact the rest of the development schedule, and they're willing to pay for it...you wouldn't be in business long if you shot them down just because you have a philosophical disagreement over an issue's relevance and necessity.

Finally, I think there needs to be someone on the admin side who really focuses on the social engineering frame of mind. How does social interaction REALLY work on LJ? How are people using the system, where is it breaking down on a social level, what needs to be done to improve and encoruage interaction between users as individuals and groups? These are NOT technical questions, they're more psychological and anthropological. Someone looking at those questions must be technically savvy, obviously, but I think right now we have a bunch of computer engineers managing the social engineering of the site...and I'm not so sure that's the best way to run this railroad.

Ideas? Thoughts? Flames? Large anonymous gifts of cash?

EDIT: I'd suggest taking a look at sherm's comment below, it's a perfect example of the dichotomy I'm talking about.
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