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Building Social Web Applications by Gavin Bell

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Chapter 8. Relationships, Responsibilities, and Privacy

People inhabit social web applications, and as a host, you become responsible for their interactions. Chapters 7 and 15 explore how to build for the individual and manage the unruly whole. This chapter pauses to look at the role you will be taking on as site owner or manager, and some of the situations you will need to consider for features and API design.

We Are in a Relationship?

Looking back to 2000, there were few sites in which the site owner had more than a transitory and often commercial relationship with the people visiting the site, let alone the ability to establish a persistent relationship with them. There were plenty of examples of web communities then, as Derek Powazek’s 2001 book, Design for Community (Waite Group Press), demonstrates, but they were not the dominant form on the Web. Sites such as Photo.net and MetaFilter.com were starting to show how interpersonal relationships on a website might be realized.

Until recently, the idea that you might integrate your audience and your content was strange, regardless of whether you were a company, a newspaper, or even a celebrity (e.g., Stephenfry.com). Many companies do not want this relationship made obvious, or are reticent about including their community directly alongside their content.

Sometimes it might seem inappropriate. Direct customer comments on a product page from a manufacturer have been a step too far for many companies. That’s changing, however, as the ...

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