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September 9, 2004

Progressive trust and Intimacy gradients

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Two interesting posts at Life With Alacrity. First, thoughts on the growth of progressive trust in real human relations, and what it means for technology:

Computer trust rarely works the way that human trust does. It starts with mathematical proofs—that such and such a mathematical algorithm is extremely difficult, thus something built on it must also be difficult. These are then built on top of each other until a system is created. It often seeks a level of “perfect trust” that is rarely required by human trust.

One of the reasons why I chose to back the then nascent SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Standard back in 1992-3, was that I felt that it much better mapped to the progressive trust model, and thus to human trust, then did its competitors.

At the time, the SET standard was backed by all the major players—Visa, Mastercard, Microsoft, etc. […] But SSL starts out very simple—first it just connects two parties, then it establishes simple confidentiality between them. If one party wants more confidentiality, they can upgrade to a stronger algorithm. Then one party can request a credential from the other, or both can.

Then a post, Intimacy Gradient, on architectural patterns that may have relevance to the design of social software:

Refuge and prospect come from the landscape architect Jay Appleton. Prospect is a place where we can see others, and refuge is a place were we can retreat and conceal ourselves. A specific prediction of his theory is that people prefer the edges of a space more then the middle. Often prospect and refuge are in conflict, as a prospect tends to be expansive and bright whereas a refuge is small and dark, but there are cases where they are combined in one place; this is why we value private homes with a spectacular view so much, and why we pay so much to stay at scenic retreats. So what are the edges of our social spaces? Are there ways that we can signal either prospect and refuge?

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. Adam on September 9, 2004 1:15 PM writes...

"Often prospect and refuge are in conflict,"

Just so. Or, rather, often in *tension* - I'm not sure this necessarily has to mean "conflict." A good example would be the theory - not uncontroversial, but something that I have no problem with personally - of "savannah preference."

This is the idea that humans, our distant ancestors having evolved in African savannah environments with tree havens interspersed with open areas for grazing, still show a marked preference for analogous environments. (A good summary is at )

As the linked article puts it really well, I'll just repeat its point: "preferred locations are found at interfaces between prospect-dominant and refuge-dominant areas." This is something that's directly relevant to efforts toward the creating of congenial virtual spaces - a good example might be a place where you can see who's online in a given space *before* being offered the option to commit and therefore disclose one's arrival.

Smart IM clients offer this as "sign in under invisible mode" or similar, and of course a parallel sanctuary is enjoyed by those lurking on discussion boards. As skeptical as I tend to be about YASNS etc., it's one area where, perhaps, online or other technologically-mediated environments trump real life; wouldn't it be nice to know exactly who's at a party before heading off to it, exactly who's in a room before opening the door?

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