The snowflake effect


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I like Erik Duval’s concept of the snowflake effect[1] in terms of user interactions with new technologies. He defines this as follows:

In the same way that all snowflakes in a snowstorm are unique, each user has her specific characteristics, restrictions and interests. That is why we speak of a “snowflake effect”, to indicate that, more and more, the aforementioned facilities will be relied upon to realize far-reaching forms of personalization and “mass customization”. This effect will be realized through a hybrid approach with push and pull techniques, in which information is actively requested or searched by the user, but also more and more subtly integrated in his work and learning environment. In this way, a learning environment can be created that is geared to the individual needs of the teacher or student.

He goes on to as the question: What could, a “snowflaked” learning environment look like?

I think there are a lot of synergies here with the way in which I have been using Gibson’s notion of affordances.(Gibson 1979) I argue that technologies have a set of characteristics or affordances, that will mean different things to different people, i.e. each user comes to a particular technology with a unique set of characteristics, these include their personal preferences for how they want to interact with technologies, their skills level, their context, etc.  


Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum Associated.




[1] See

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