Categories and suffering: Facebook Japan’s cultural adaptation

Posted on: May 1, 2011

Facebook in Japan allows (and actively prompts) users to enter their blood type, catering to the local obsession with its significance (see infographic below –  hat tip Vanessa Paech).

When developing a participatory website it is well worth considering such cultural adaptations, that enable people to identify with categories they feel important.

However this feature takes me back to Susan Star’s excellent work on classification and information systems. Her paper on being allergic to onions examines how in life, and in information systems, we develop categories in order to make sense of the world. And how this leads to high tension between categories and to suffering for those who do not quite fit into them.. (Here is a PDF summary of these concepts; citation)

With the Japanese example, one might wonder how people feel about being classified by blood group and if there is any suffering caused, on some level, due to assumptions made about their character as a result.

When contemplating the creation of participatory experiences online, I often talk about considering the ‘Why Wasn’t I Consulted gang’ – those who may be miffed that they were left out in some way. This notion complements Star’s ideas on suffering and categories – prompting us to think of who we are leaving in, or out, and the potential consequences of classifying people and herding them one way or another into different buckets.

In particular we might think on… to if, or how, users can clamber out of particular buckets – in other words paying due attention to the rigidity and flexibility of the system in which they are being defined.

Infographic from Phlebotomist

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