Social Files

What is a File? An abstraction for for enduring user actions which supports the notion of ‘ownership’ that adequately serves both users and engineers as they engage with the world of networked sociality (2011). pdf twitter

It seems to us that part of the problem here has to do with the fact that both sides in this equation, the everyday ordinary user and the computer scientist, misunderstand each other by dint of sharing this much used word, file.

What is of interest to the user may not so much be the file itself, but the social life the file lets them, the user, have.

Our goal will be to propose how a refined definition of the term can be part of a larger effort to define a grammar of action for an HCI of the 21st century, where the practices of users are profoundly more social in nature than they were when the term ‘file’ was first coined.


After much history the authors suggest a file is a composite whole of complex structure with advanced semantics for copy and delete that encompases both device and cloud.

On page 9 of this 10 page paper the authors finally get around to the idea that people seek a sense of ownership even as they share.

See Ownership Metaphor where we explore the many ways a user might think of ownership in federated wiki.