While delving into this research project focused on social searching, we expected that one of the big issues that would immediately concern users was the “privacy issue”. Our mental model of searching has always been private— and the So.cl experiment flips that around, making the site’s emphasis broadcasting your searches and explicitly sharing them with the world. Furthermore, it opens the doors to exploring what others have searched for. When we asked what people’s concerns were in our focus groups with University of Washington students, it was no surprise that privacy was a significant issue.
“At first I thought it was an invasion of privacy “
“it’s too public!”
We wanted to carefully track their feelings around privacy, so we gave the students a questionnaire each week that asked about privacy and to what extent it prevented use. Illustrated here in week 3 of their use with So.cl, we see a general trend suggesting that self-reported use was not affected by privacy to a huge degree. In other words, as the weeks passed, for the majority of people, privacy was not a big concern. We also found that their overall concern for privacy decreased week by week.
Why was this happening?
As time went on, and students started to use the So.cl as their primary search engine, an interesting trend started to emerge. Searching started becoming not only a place to fill the gaps of your knowledge (as it has been used before), but also a place to post what you’re INTO, what you are ABOUT and what you find amusing.. via your searches. It started to look like students (and those of us at FUSE Labs) were using it for self-presentation, as well as for information sharing and information discovery. Search has been re-purposed as entertainment and self-expression. How cool.