The Checklist

The Checklist is a list of needs that designers and engineers have to prioritize when designing technology that functions easily and safely for communities online and allow for spaces of serious, important and even fun interactions. For community organizers, this is the state of what tools can and can’t do.

Designing for Communities is Different Than Designing Enterprise Software.

People need different kinds of tools to respond to different moments in their lives, there isn’t going to be a one size fits all solution. What’s important to acknowledge in this moment, is to understand how scary and serious it is, but also to acknowledge that people want to have closeness, intimacy, and even delight. But if a work tool is also used for a social hang out, there is no separation. Better interfaces, more customization, and secure privacy can create better experiences for social gatherings, community meetings, and families.

Design needs to learn and respond to what communities need right now.

Consensual Privacy and Good Security

This is a paramount feature. Does it offer encryption or end to end encryption so all video calls, messages, and media are safe and secure?

Does the tool notify users when it’s recording? Or Does it notify users how their data is being used? For example, when Zoom is asking to access a user’s calendar- is it just to help set up meetings or is Zoom using the calendar information for other reasons. Users need to know and the tool should offer clear, consensual choices.

Consistent Ways to Share Content and Media

Tools need to allow for ways to integrate outside links of audio or video into a shared video conferencing space so all attendees can see the same content at relatively the same time. Zoom currently does this but it isn’t easy to figure out, and generally only hosts have this option.

Zoom recently allowed for a way to upload media in the chat, though it would be great if all tools, including Zoom, made it easier to drag media into a chat, similar to how Slack allows for media sharing.

Latency and Lack of Feedback Destroys Conversations

Latency, and a lack of feedback across hosts and participants are a Major issue. Latency is a hard technical issue to solve but it ruins and interrupts social interactions. Latency and lag stands in the way of creators, educators, and artists since presenters and participants are not getting clear or obvious feedback from the tools about latency issues. Users should be given more clear and obvious notifications and feedback related to connectivity, lag, and latency.

Create More Intimate Conversation

Imagine if all tools had the ability to create break out rooms or smaller group chats? What would it look like if a handful of people, not just the host, in your tool form a private conversation? How, when, what does it look like?

Moderation Is Key For User Safety

Even with Zoom’s update, hosts and participants need better UI moderation. Imagine if the host had the ability to right click on a video, and mute someone. Imagine if participants could do that, too. Moderation shouldn’t just fall to the host, when any participant can face harassment. Moderation tools should be easy to find, intuitive, and placed frequently throughout the tool, like right clicks on video, tools in the menu bar to create muting, block lists, and or the ability to ‘choose’ where their video is placed.

Syncing Audio, Video and Sounds

Be it workout classes, teaching, or karaoke, users need better ways to share audio for all participants, sync up audio, and then an ability to discuss on top of audio. Audio and sound experiences are important regardless if it’s for a conference, a classroom or for a karaoke party. Pamela Liou, artist and teacher pointed out “[Bad] syncing makes it basically impossible to teach."

Give people the ability to turn on and off audio syncing, especially on Zoom. Zoom’s camera jumps to whatever ‘sound’ is made or who is talking to focus on that audio. This feature where video conferencing focuses on one noise or camera above others makes it impossible for participants to all share sound at the same time, like practicing singing, or engaging in group sound exercises.

Polls, Surveys and Sign Ups for Participants

Hosts need better registration and capture emails and names, easier ways to integrate or allow for surveys, ways to communicate with attendees through the tool much like how eventbrite or meet up works, and the ability charge fees or fee based gathering.

Customizing is Key

People need better tools to allow for customization- perhaps, even like a dashboard. Customization could allow people, such as hosts, to create a workflow or line up of speakers, switch cameras and camera angles, allow for switches and cuts with outside audio, move around participants into different places of the hang out and use lighting and angles to enhance someone’s background. Additionally, imagine if hosts and participants had the ability to more easily access avatars. Any of these tools would allow for richer and more interesting even delightful experiences online, but also allow for more easier large groups and community calls.

Intentionality and Delight in UI

UI and customization can go hand in hand to create better, more enjoyable interactions online. But remember, a tool doesn’t have to exist for every scenario, it can work just for a few kinds of events. Imagine if a karaoke app actually better reflected offline karaoke, like rooms or a stage. Or rather, imagine if OBS allowed for a specific layout or 3d spaces for participants to move around, a way for participants to upload or change their avatars, or personas and had an ability for better audio. When designing new tools, keep in mind this space of intentionality and customization.