4.3 Polite Software

Polite computing addresses the requirement for software to work politely with people. The Oxford English Dictionary defines politeness as:

                              “… behaviour that is respectful or considerate to others”.

So software that respects and considers users is polite. This feature is quite distinct from software usefulness or usability, where usefulness addresses functionality and usability how easy it is to use. Usefulness is what the computer does and usability is how users get it to do it. Polite computing in contrast is about social interactions, not computer power or cognitive ease. So software can be easy to use but rude, or polite but still hard to use. While usability reduces training and documentation costs, politeness lets a software agent socially interact with success. Both usability and politeness fall under the rubric of human-centered design.

Polite computing is about designing software to be polite, not making people polite. People are socialized by society, but rude, inconsiderate or selfish software is a widespread problem because it is a software design “blind spot” (Cooper, 1999). Most software is socially blind, except for socio-technical systems like Wikipedia, Facebook and E-Bay. This chapter outlines a vision of polite computing for the next generation of social software.