Brian Whitworth

Email: bwhitworth replacethisby@

This site: is about my interests, incluing riding a motorbikes, singing, quantum theory and socio-technical computing. 

Some links:

1. Brain and Technology Introduction Introduction video to my human computer interaction design course. See IDF for the full course.

2. The social design of technical systems A foundation for social computing.

3. Riding Safely: How to avoid near death experiences on a motorbike. List of 10 ways to change your brain to ride safely! 

4. Quantum Realism. Reverse engineering the physical world.

5 The Research Roadmap A roadmap for scientific research. Printable checklist for PhD students (pdf). A poster 

5. Towards an Online Bill of Rights 

My Background:

Born in Oldham, England but grew up in New Zealand. After seven years at university, joined the NZ Army as an Officer, Psychologist then Computer Analyst. After "retiring", I designed/wrote Forum, a pre-windows social network used for three years at my university, giving me a PhD on how online groups generate agreement. A US. professor from 1999-2005, I then  worked at Massey University, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand, because with the Internet the "world is flat". The vision is that people and computers are more than people or computers.


A registered  psychologist cross-trained in computing:


     PhD (MSIS); MA (Hons)(Psych); BSc (Maths); BA (Psych); Army Officer Cadet Training; Teacher training.


    Everyday motorcycle rider, singing/songwriting, reverse engineering quantum theory/relativity.


    The Internet is an emerging socio-technical system who’s problems are human/social, e.g. spam: information overload; spyware and online monitoring; copyright abuse; online scams; plagiarism; viruses, worms and hackers; pornography and sexual predators; online fraud and scams; identity theft; phishing and privacy abuses.

    The socio-technical gap between what people want and what technology does is increasing because social problems aren't solved by technology alone. Human evolution has always required social as well as technical progress. Social inventions like laws and ethics are hard to see because they aren't physical, yet modern technology would fail without modern society. As the roads built by Rome fell apart in the dark ages as locals looted the bricks, so cars today wouldn't work without a road code. A bridge that doesnt meet physical requirements collapses, and a society that doesnt meet social requirements "collapses". 

    Socio-technical design is about applying social rights like freedom, democracy, legitimacy and transparency to cyberspace because for online communities, social requirements are defined by the software. The Internet began as a technical challenge but it is now a social challenge. Systems like Wikipedia, EBay and Amazon worked because they got the social factors right, and if they stop doing that they will go the way of MySpace. Social-technical systems that get the social processes right are a social revolution, from zero-sum gains based on competition to the non-zero-sum gains of synergy, where people working together produce more for all, e.g. open source software.

This research has four aspects:
  1. Social requirements: See The Social Design of Technical Systems and the Handbook of Research on Socio-Technical Design and Social Networking Systems. It began with a 2003 Legitimate by Design paper, updated in 2006 by Towards a Theory of Online Social RightsPolite Computing illustrated how social requirements affect the software industry. Spam was used to illustrate what happens when technology ignores social needs: today over 90% of email transmissions are spam that is mostly caught by filters - but why build a system for computers to automatically generate messages for  other computers to automatically delete? The same problem will migrate to cell-phones, texting and phone calls unless software learns the social lessons outlined in our 2009 Channel Email paper. Recent work develops A Social Environment Model of Socio-technical Performance. Our most recent paper suggests Online Software Bill of Rights

  2. Socio-technical performance: Began with a 2003 Web of System Performance (WOSP) paper then a 2006 CACM paper. An IEEE 2008 experiment compared WOSP to the two factor TAM model that has dominated IS/IT thought for two decades with the the WOSP factors of reliability, security, flexiblity, connectivity, privacy, functionality, usability and extendibility. My student Karen Patten and I analyzed flexibility into anticipation, agility and adaptation in How CIOS Use Flexibility to Manage Uncertainty in Dynamic Business Environments, best practitioner paper AMCIS 2009. Work on Measuring Disagreement gives a measure for group diversity.

  3. Social processes. This research on online social interaction was before email, so I built my own groupware with posting, commenting and voting. Over years I deduced the Cognitive Three-Process (C3P) model, that people seek three types of information online: factual, personal and group normative. Going against the media-richness view of the day, Generating agreement in computer-mediated groups proved that simple lean text interactions could generate  powerful social effects, as later applications like Twitter and Chat verified, given many-to-many linkage. The paper Beyond Rational Decision Making explains why people use personal and group data, and Voting before discussing suggested a new online social form. Brains dont work like computers, as A Comparison of Human and Computer Information Processing shows.

  4. Open knowledge exchange. My 2001 many-to-many linkage idea predicted today's lean tag clouds, reputation measures and recommender systems but I couldn't publish against the idea that social media must be rich, yet it was plain wrong, as Google's simple white screen later showed. The WOSP model was equally hard to publish - JAIS rejected it in 2005 because "papers critical of TAM never pass review." It was obvious that the Information Systems "leaders" I met at conferences were using the Religion of Rigor to defend their Intellectual Castles, to get promotions, students and grants. Fortunately bottom-up computing ignored them to create systems like Wikipedia and E-Bay, and investers in Internet bandwidth for 4G video lost money as SMS Texting became popularReinventing Academic Publishing Online Part I: Rigor, Relevance and Practice identified academia as a business of publishing, promotions and grants, and Part II: A Socio-technical Vision suggested how a real search for truth would operate. Criticism of academia was of course impossible to  publish (rejected by CAIS 2006, EJIS 2007 and IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 2008) but was published in First Monday, an open source journal. A Research Publishing Checklist For New Authors suggested that scientific authors publish in open not closed journals, because elite knowledge castles accessible only to the few, will eventually be assigned to the dustbin of history.

Real science is based on the free knowledge sharing that technology now allows, not hiding knowledge away in online castles

The social rule that to give is better than to receive still applies because giving to many others helps all.

How technology relates to people is illustrated by popular movies:
  1. Humanized technology: Machines that replace people, e.g. The Terminator, IBM's Deep Blue, AI the movie.
  2. Technologized humanity: People as cogs in a system run by machines, from William Blake's Urizon to The Matrix.
  3. Technical-human hybrids: Computer add-ons take over, e.g. Star Trek's Captain Picard and the Borgs, Star Wars Darth Vader
  4. Technology support: This is the future. AI robots are under development but AI limbs are here now. Driverless cars are touted by the techies that twenty years ago predicted AI servants and jet cars - but where are they? We have cruise control, range collision sensing and assisted parking so who needs driverless cars? The software that runs our laptops, mobile and smart phones can't go a week without crashing, hanging or dropping calls - why trust it with our lives? Show me the software that can’t be hacked and I will believe. Until then, good software augments people it doesn't replace them. People on cell-phones disconnect from reality. When three women's car plunged into the Passaic River, calling a friend didnt help