Productive Argument UI IDEAS

I returned to Facebook after being off it for a long time and instantly got into a 100 long post fight (?), discussion (?), disagreement (?). The ways in which their UI fuelled the fire in undesirable ways became really apparent to me.

Then I thought about the kinds of things that would facilitate productive arguments (and by that, I just mean discussion). Here are some ideas… (and I’d love if this just became a really long collection of people’s good ideas, because online outrage is a huge problem.)

  1. Having categories for a post/reply which indicate if your intention is to “persuade”, “try to understand”, or merely “explain” (without trying to persuade one way or another.) These could be color coded for easy recognition.

  2. Make an easy to use standard form form so if people wanted to lay things out so it’s clearer to see, this isn’t so difficult. So this icon/form can live where the rest of the little icons live (like when you want to quote someone, or make something bold…up there ^), and it would bring something like this up that you then just populate. The numbers and symbols would be assigned so all you have to do is fill in.

  3. Something for easy annotation. Something like this:

    So you have those little lines and then you can write a little message addressing the specific text, right above it, so it’s easy to see what’s being referred to. It becomes very hard to follow things when you have to look in different places for information.

And this doesn’t just have to be used to point out fallacies (though it would be fun to come up with logical fallacy EMOJIS that people could then just start using!).

FOUR: Logical fallacy EMOJIS!


This is something that we’ve (@Angela and myself), especially around and since her return to Facebook, in that the type of engagement it is engineered for is almost, by design, meaningless. Even small things, like trying to find something you posted 2 weeks ago, much less bigger things, like fostering a discussion.

Some of the ideas for this thread (Against Design) overlap here, in that the tools through which communicate massively shape our interaction. The Sam Harris podcast with Tristan Harris gets into a lot of detail about that.

It would be great to see a broader set of tools to, not only enable but, encourage vibrant discussion/discourse.

Fuck, even just the idea of functional emoji would be amazing.

(edit: I tried to make a “now form a band” emoji sentence, but there’s not even a barre chord emoji?!)


I interviewed at Facebook recently. The results of that experience amounted to them telling me "we like you, you are clearly qualified (though we wish your portfolio was a little prettier) but we just don’t know what to do with someone so [they avoided the word old] and [they avoided the word principled].

Which was probably a good call, in hindsight!

But the problem with Facebook is that they suck all the oxygen out of the room. I don’t know how to get my family to sign up for @Angela’s social network when Facebook is sucking up all their time and attention.


It is pretty monolothic, so in that sense, there won’t be “another Facebook”, (ala google+ and whatever that other minimalist one was called). The paradigm will just be different, and do something else.

And I think the ‘currency’ would be different than attention.
I was going to say “engagement”, but that feels like corporate-speak as well. Maybe it’s not about a single verb (that is to engage, or attend), but rather a directionality. Like Facebook takes. The arrow points inward. Maybe this would have to point outward, to engage with the world, or the metric is bidirectionality.


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I must have been at least a little appropriate for Facebook, because I managed to be narcissistic enough to make my first reply about me! :stuck_out_tongue:

Meanwhile, here we are on a social network that isn’t Facebook and also happens to be open source. So let’s have some fun with this.

To that end I have some questions.

Is this:

Resulting in a quote, with an arrow pointing back to the original, essentially equivalent? You still have the jumping back and forth problem, perhaps?

Stacking replies one on top of another allows each of us to have our “own” space for our thoughts. I briefly imagined what it would be like if every thread was really more like an Etherpad/Google Docs like experience where we’re all editing the same singular document with our own individual cursors. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that with more than two authors (or even with just two) but it gets… silly, quick. You end up inventing all sorts of social conventions on the spot just to allow each other to finish a thought.

And it’s worth considering that there is value in keeping your peanut butter separate from my chocolate, but also letting us bring snippets of each into the other. I’m imagining what the emotional experience of seeing your post redlined by your acquaintances would be. Perhaps it’s better to let people be who they are, warts and all?

But then I end up where I already am, basically avoiding people prone to logical fallacy. I think this is a common tactic. Which means, at least among my own circle of friends, I’ve seen Facebook usage plummet since last November.

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(see above)

I do like the Discourse thing where you can view replies linearly or within the discussion, though it is either/or, due to the paradigms of existing online discussion.

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I thought of it as just being one layer deep. So it’s not a dynamic workspace. It would still yield a static reply. But in that reply the original text would be present, as are the annotations. So if there is something like an arrow (I thought of it more like a little 90 degree line), it’d be a very short. It’s really just a little symbol would indicate what’s going on: that you’re commenting on this little bit of text.

This is good if I find a lot wrong within someone’s single sentence. And instead of having to say “regarding the second part of your statement…” or quoting out of context (because repeating the full sentence over and over would become tedious for the reader), I thought this would be a good solution.

I added the literal “red line” as an after thought. It could be helpful if we want to get specific, but it might just be enough to indicate the section of the sentence the annotations refer to. The negative emotional response to seeing one’s words underlined might be enough to scrap the literal red line all together. Anyway, it’s not central (but the indicators, and “superscript” are).

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@Rodrigo did you ever get a chance to play with MIT Media Lab’s PubPub?

I still haven’t, but it seems like a platform intended for academic discourse would be ideal for this type of thing. I’m curious to know if it handles quotes and embeds as nicely as Discourse does, and I wonder how it handles annotations.

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I think that pretty much sums up Facebook in a sentence. I try my best to avoid anything but casual comments there as it feels like a waste of time and energy. It’s too bad that it’s become the primary (and sometimes only) way for me to communicate with some people.

I have some friends who are heavily into political discussion and Facebook and for a time I started getting dragged into it as well. I found myself being constantly anxious and emotionally drained before I realized what kind of toll these meaningless discussions were having on me. I’ve since removed myself from any such discussions and found my life much better for it.

I basically agree that the UI does not foster an environment for productive discussion of any sort.


It’s a great place to repost Instagram photos. :stuck_out_tongue:


We looked at it, and it does look great for that type of thing, but from what I remember, it wasn’t possible (or easy) to build it around other publication types. So having art things, or video things, etc… It’s built around having a “paper” with embedded discussion, which is a fantastic idea in that context.

Yeah, though to be clear, it’s not the virtual nature I have a problem. It’s the micro-banter it encourages that I really dislike (even in the physical world).

Totally. I was on Facebook for like 6 months a couple of years ago, and these discussions felt like eating McDonalds or something. Like doing the thing called eating, but gaining no nutrition from it. Terrible.


I totally agree. I’m in many virtual communities, nearly all of them lead to more meaningful discussion than anything that happens on Facebook. I don’t think it’s the virtual aspect that’s the problem. More the transient nature of the conversations. Especially the latest thing they started doing where random comments on other people’s posts and pages from your friends start showing up on your timeline.

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Do you think it could also be a volume/size problem?

The communities that seem to have the most vibrant conversations are relatively small and specific in their appeal.

Facebook doesn’t allow for any curation of presentation of self to different communities. It jams it all together into a confusing mess, which also then goes out to the widest possible network devoid of context or the norms of a social group. Combine that with non-chronological display, cryptic algorithms deciding who sees what (and when) and you have a recipe for social disaster.

As my IA friends would say, Facebook has no sense of place. Place (as opposed to Space) is what gives us social clues about what’s acceptable, how to act, and what type of relationships to expect. Facebook has none of this, it’s a placeless space that we all dump our lives into with little feedback. It’s a public street corner that people treat like their living room.

There’s some great stuff about digital place making in my favourite design book, Digital Ground by Malcolm McCullough. Worth a read if you want to dig into interaction design and think about how to create different types of environments.


That book sounds interesting, (bititi @Rodrigo !)
Would you mind giving an example of a cue one can drop in to move it from space to place (your favorite one!) ?
I somewhat understand what that means in terms of actual physical spaces, but I’m having trouble imagining what that could even mean for a cyber-space. Thanks

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I can’t find the photo I took, but in Glasgow Facebook put up one of those whole building scaffold​ ads that said something like “who needs words”. Then a bunch of emojis. Sums up Facebook for me.

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Sure, there are some good examples around.

It’s kind of what you are talking about at the beginning of this thread. How do you design the affordances and elements of a digital environment to provoke/enable/deter kinds of behaviours and relationships? How do you indicate to people what sort of space this is, or give it enough meaning that it becomes a Place?

If Facebook has trouble becoming a Place because of lack of social cues and connections, you can contrast that with Lines where we have not just different tools, but a clear connection that keeps people here. It’s like Times Square vs your neighbourhood park… or Big Chain Bar vs your Local Pub. The place takes on meaning because of a recurring community, topical or situational connection, and the tools/infrastructure that let you create and manage meaningful exchange of ideas or social relationships.

It’s a pretty abstract concept and I’m not doing a great job of elaborating on it :slight_smile:

You can think of digital and physical spaces and places in much the same way… A Space becomes a Place when it takes on either individual or communal meaning that goes beyond it’s formal properties, but is often enabled and shaped by them. The meaning a space can take on is directly related to the types of activities and behaviours it facilitates through it’s construction.


Facebook has no incentive to change, and it won’t.

In a sense, FB has figured out the formula its precursors couldn’t: how to convince end-users to do its own work.

In other words, the “content” of FB is meaningless to FB. As long as we users generate content, we are effectively subsidizing the company. FB doesn’t have to DO anything. Just write code, support the site, keep it working, “innovate” little bangles and bobbles to keep users excited, etc.

FB is what AOL wished it was fifteen or twenty years ago: a closed online destination; a ‘web’ within the web, from which there is no reason to leave.

That most of the content there is useless and/or unproductive is beside the point, and while FB can officially pay all the lip service in the world to wanting to change, purge fake news, be more engaging, facilitate deeper discourse, it won’t, as there are simply no incentives for it to do so.

It is, in other words, working absolutely correctly as a business model.

We are the biggest suckers for enabling it.

Oh look! A like! A Dopamine hit! Off I go!


I got to use this image in my lecture today and it made me happy, and also made me think of this conversation:


“15 of your things are broken.” Oh, wow, I’m making progress then! :joy:

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Where is this from? I love it.