Intimacy Gradient

Intimacy Gradient --- ?RonGoldman 4 Feb 2002

. . . in TheContextOfOurLives we interact with many people, some we are close to while others remain strangers. In our electronic interactions with them we want to differentiate between our public and private life.

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In the physical world a well designed building is arranged so that there is a gradient from a more public space (e.g. front porch) to a more private one (e.g. bedroom). This allows us to keep strangers out of the intimate parts of our lives, and to meet with our close friends and family in special places. In the electronic realm such discrimination is not always possible.

Many people carry pictures of their loved ones in their wallet or purse to show to others. Online they may post them on their personal web site, but then anyone can see them---not a comforting thought in today's world. As a result some people no longer include pictures of their children or they put them in a password protected, private section or their web site and only give out the password to their family and friends. Many companies and organizations similarly section off areas of their web presence to limit who can visit there.

A staple of online chat is the ability of two or more people to create a private chat room for themselves.

In the world of email there are mailing lists that are invitation only; not everyone can join them. Some lists (and newsgroups) are moderated to again limit they range of messages that pass over them.

To separate the private from the more public part of their lives many people have multiple email accounts. That way they can control how different people can reach them. Another common technique is to have multiple folders and have one's email client automatically filter incoming messages by who sent them---this is often very difficult to do with the available filters on current email clients. One of the reasons that spam is so offensive is that it appears in our personal electronic space in the area we associate with our friends and family.


Include in the design of any electronic communications tool ways for people to control who has access to them. Allow ways to easily separate public from private interactions. Contrast this pattern with the concerns in the other patterns PrivacyGradient and InterruptionGradient: PrivacyGradient is focused on allowing us to limit what other people know about us. InterruptionGradient deals with how we are notified of incoming messages. They both have an associated Intimacy Gradient---we want to let some people know more about us than others and to be notified differently when a message arrives from someone special.

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A way to specify policies for groups of people is by defining an InnerCircle. Another is to include MetaInformation. That makes it possible for PeopleTalkToPeopleMachinesTalkToMachines.

One way to prevent access is by establishing a CommunicationDoor.


Last edited December 24, 2002
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