The Social Machine

The Social Machine

Designs for Living Online

By Judith Donath

New ways to design spaces for online interaction—and how they will change society.





New ways to design spaces for online interaction—and how they will change society.

Computers were first conceived as “thinking machines,” but in the twenty-first century they have become social machines, online places where people meet friends, play games, and collaborate on projects. In this book, Judith Donath argues persuasively that for social media to become truly sociable media, we must design interfaces that reflect how we understand and respond to the social world. People and their actions are still harder to perceive online than face to face: interfaces are clunky, and we have less sense of other people's character and intentions, where they congregate, and what they do.

Donath presents new approaches to creating interfaces for social interaction. She addresses such topics as visualizing social landscapes, conversations, and networks; depicting identity with knowledge markers and interaction history; delineating public and private space; and bringing the online world's open sociability into the physical world. Donath asks fundamental questions about how we want to live online and offers thought-provoking designs that explore radically new ways of interacting and communicating.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262027014 432 pp. | 8 in x 9 in 119 figures


  • For anyone with interest in this field, either as a technology designer or just as someone who loves beautiful technology, this is destined to become the definitive text. It is eloquent, well organized, and thorough...Those who share the author's principles of valuing beautiful and thought-provoking designs for their own sake will fall in love with this book. Those who are motivated to design platforms to generate profits or support analysis and decision-making will find value here, too, although they are unlikely to be completely won over by all of Donath's opinions on radical, creative design. Then again, this is a common characteristic of manifestoes. I don't expect Karl Marx planned to win over everyone with his manifesto, either.



  • Judith Donath's thorough, in-depth look at social media is worthy of detailed, careful reading, but it also wonderfully supports opening at random, then reading and pondering. Want examples? Although interacting with people through technology is not as good as actually being with them, sometimes it can be better. What does it mean to be a stranger in the world of social media? 'The stranger,' she suggests, 'may cease to exist.' What do these observations mean for us as people and as a society? A book worthy of repeated reading, repeated pondering.

    Don Norman

    author of The Design of Everyday Things, revised and expanded edition

  • If you use social media and especially if you design social media, The Social Machine is a must-read. Judith Donath has spent years studying, building, and using online communication media and shares what she has learned in a readable, detailed, prescriptive book. The truth of her observations can be verified by looking at the media you use and the way you use it. Every user experience and user interface designer in particular should read The Social Machine to learn what they didn't teach in engineering school.

    Howard Rheingold

    author of Net Smart

  • Delightful, informative, and comprehensive, The Social Machine by Judith Donath provides a sumptuously illustrated overview of important design concepts for the design of mediated sociality. Donath's book will make you look at every social interface anew—wondering what the design process was that produced it and why specific design choices were made. The text informs us but also invites us to engage with the ethics of choices that have been decided and that lie ahead of us. It will make you want to review your own history with social media and mediated interaction, evaluate and critique the current landscape, and imagine future possibilities. As we move into a world exploding with social media and with representations of us in data and in digital form, this is the book to read to understand the history and garner a foundation for thinking about the future.

    Elizabeth F. Churchill

    Director of Human Computer Interaction, eBay Research Labs, and co-author of Foundations for Designing User-Centered Systems

  • The Social Machine provides new insights gathered from decades of research and practice by artists and technologists in visualizing the social landscape. Drawing from her own pioneering work in making networks of human relationships visible at the group, institutional, and Internet scales, Donath succeeds in painting an unusually deep and personal portrait of the continually expanding universe of social media.

    John Maeda

    Design Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers