Designing Entanglement: Holistic approach to a new pattern of complexity in digital service design

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Author: Eunki Chung

We are living in the world of digital services. Big services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Evernote now became essential to everyday life by providing omnipresent and seamless user experience and values across multiple devices and software platforms. The boom of these new digital services opened up the second golden age to related disciplines like Interaction Design, Human-Computer Interaction and recently, Service Design.However, a new phenomenon seems to be emerging. Digital services get networked more and more each other. Programmable Web, an online directory of Application Programming Interfaces (API) across the digital services, reported that it has been listed more than 8,000 APIs in 2013, which shows steep increase from 2005, when eBay firstly created their web API. When we understand the API as a set of language between different digital service systems, this trend exemplifies how networks among digital services have become denser and stickier. This density and stickiness has started to reveal more complex landscapes to service related practitioners: it is more than just networked, but entangled. For an example of Facebook, they announced already more than 9 million apps and websites are using Facebook Connect and it is replacing tedious sign-up and log-in processes of new services. This implies that many services are now unintentionally sharing the lifeline of service with Facebook. It actually happened in February 2013. Major internet services like CNN, Huffington Post and New York Times went down due to a glitch with Facebook Connect and its social plug-in feature (‘like’ button).

If we expand the point of view to physical servicescape [Bitner, 1992], we can realize this entanglement is happening widely at offline service systems indeed. Retail services become more entangled to digital services like Square, Shopkick, Groupon and Foursqaure, lying outside of their business boundary. Big digital services like Facebook, Google, Twitter and Linkedin are considered as essential factors for traditional offline service providers to maintain their relationship with customers at digital sphere.I will use the term entanglement to capture this new dense and sticky relationship among digital services. Entanglement is a term used in quantum theory to describe the way that particles of energy and matter can become correlated to predictably interact with each other regardless of how far apart they are. Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance”. Entanglement is a real phenomenon, which has been demonstrated repeatedly through experimentation. The mechanism behind it cannot, as yet, be fully explained by any theory. One proposed theory suggests that all particles on earth were once compacted tightly together and, as a consequence, maintain a connectedness [Gilder, 2008].

The current and recent phenomena in digital services described before are amazingly similar with this description. The entanglement of digital services is not only about the matter of tight interlinkages, but more to the aspect of dynamic synchronizations of certain status or superposition among different business and service ecosystems. Facebook Home, a launcher to Android smartphones released April 2013, is a good example. When user downloads and installs the Facebook Home application from Android AppStore, it transforms a whole user experience of a smartphone to be encompassed by substitutive Facebook solutions. It causes disruptions with other preinstalled service ecosystems from Google, device manufacturers and carriers and dilutes ritualized service usages tailored by the user.This new pattern of complexity among digital services raises new challenge to interaction and service design practitioners and researchers. Considering interaction and service design discipline generally have had a tendency to unfold the idea from the first person (a user) point of view in the single system so far, focusing to the entanglement among different service systems is not a familiar one to them. In other words, people who design, develop and manage a certain service are hard to consider the side-effect of their decisions and actions towards service users’ experience and coproduced value from stakeholders stemmed from entangled services. Because design briefs are usually formulated within the context of one single organizational entity while different digital services are getting more flexible to be entangled each other, it is becoming apparent problems to service-related practitioners, especially its creators more and more.
To articulate this recent phenomenon, it needs multiple angles to wholly understand the situation and refine insights from it. Therefore, the paper sets up a meaningful construct to deal with the service entanglement from synthesis of studies on complexity, systemics and applied ecological studies.Core audience of the research includes interaction and service design practitioners and system engineers or business development people closely working with designers. Accordingly, the paper discusses viable approaches to dismantle entangled status.Through the research, interaction and service design practitioners can skillfully deal with complex problems stem from intersections of digital services. They can benefit from a framework or set of tools like service ecology canvas or advanced service blueprint to prototype a structure of complex service systems and experiences like service business ecosystem or multi-channel service offering. From the service provider’s perspective, the research and discussion can provide them a useful knowledge. They can learn how to effectively adapt to entangled situation and pipeline the learning to service evolution process. At any stakeholder’s viewpoints, the paper opens new discussion opportunities about co-production aspect of service.

Posted Sep-2013

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Author(s) (20XX). Article title. In Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSDX) 20XX Symposium. City, Country, Month X-X, 20XX.

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