DebateTable

A social debating platform that encourages the spreading of more diverse viewpoints through text, video, and live debates, community-sourced prompts, and data visualizations of changes in opinions over time.

role:
project type:
duration:
deliverables:

ui/ux design, ux research, project management
team (4 others & me), class project
7 weeks (apr. 2022 - jun. 2022)
high-fidelity prototype

SCENARIO

Set the scene: You and your friend are discussing the results of the latest election.

…and you both disagree with each other. Vehemently. Later that evening, you wish to continue the discussion, but your friend doesn’t want to hear you out and have an open-minded conversation. You feel defeated and isolated with no one to safely and openly talk to about this topic, but also find that you can’t seem to understand others’ viewpoints of the results.

USER RESEARCH & INSIGHTS

"Almost always, someone gets personally offended. It's like talking to a brick wall."

— Participant 1, age 18-35

To understand individuals’ personal experiences with debates, discussions, and how ideological conflicts are navigated, I created and distributed a survey to academic, extracurricular, and hobby-based online communities. 29 total responses were received, approximately 75% of which fell into our targeted age range of 18-35 years old.

Data from users' responses to survey.

In the survey, many respondents felt that debates were a dead end; they so often turned personal and offensive. Although many respondents expressed openness towards continuing a debate with someone who has an opposing viewpoint, many also said that they would rather agree to disagree, since they didn’t believe that people typically want to change their minds.

Qualitative coding of user responses in a spreadsheet.
Red indicates a dislike or pain point, green indicates a like, and blue indicates a trend.

Affinity map of users' survey responses based on likes, pain points, trends, and how people interact with opposing viewpoints.

AND SO WE ASK...

How might we create more more supportive online discussion environments in order to encourage empathy and the spreading of more diverse viewpoints among young adults aged 18-35?

OUR SOLUTION

Introducing DebateTable, your debate platform for all the latest topics.

Recall the aforementioned scenario, where you struggled with finding a tolerant environment to express your views and with empathizing with others’ opinions.

Now, you remember that you recently downloaded the DebateTable app, where thousands of users come together to learn and dialogue on matters important or interesting to them. You log in and create a live room called ‘Election results: What do we think and what does it all mean?” Soon, other users flood into the room and some request a seat at the table to debate with you. You begin to understand and empathize with others’ perspectives while safely sharing yours. Now, whenever you’re feeling the urge to speak on a topic and hear what others think, you know to hop onto DebateTable!

PROTOTYPING, ROUND 1

Experience prototyping: DebateTable through Discord

To experience prototype DebateTable’s core features, we turned to Discord. This first round focused on two main features: text-based debates and video-based debates. Video-based debates allow debaters to debate their stance in a video call while audience members comment on them in the chat, while text-based debates are guided by question prompts that debaters answer and audience members comment on. In both types of debates, polls will appear every once in a while to ask audience members about their stance, thoughts, and otherwise.

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Click through to see the flow of the first experience prototyping session conducted on Discord.

“Talking through chat or voice about cereal and soup wasn't as bad as I thought.”

In our first prototyping session, key insights showed our main obstacle to be getting participants comfortable with speaking up.

Key points identified from the post-prototyping survey for Round 1.

PROTOTYPING, ROUND 2

DebateTable through Discord, user flow edition

Our first round showed us some main points to improve on. For Round 2, then, we addressed the following:
 

  • How might we make debates and discussions less daunting for those who do not partake in them usually? Use smaller metrics like polls and daily questions to get them engaged.

  • How might we emphasize the relevance and impact of the debate topic for those who do not find relevance or value currently? Show impact through quantitative statistics; mainly, show the differences in opinion before and after a debate. Show relevance by asking participants to reflect on similar experiences/opinions in poll prompts.

In this prototyping round, we also streamlined our focus down to creating a clear user flow and enriching the video-based debate experience. To simulate the audience experience, participants watched a clip of a debate, during which they could answer real-time poll questions and make comments in a peripheral chat, and then have the opportunity to form their own opinions and debate afterwards.

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Click through to see the flow of the first experience prototyping session conducted on Discord.

"I think this prototyping session felt more immersive in the topic in the sense that we were able to watch a video of the prompt at the start. It allowed me to ease into the voice chat channel more and gain more insight from people before having a chance to verbally speak."

Users felt more comfortable sharing their thoughts with this streamlined user flow and after being introduced to the topic a little more thoroughly through a video. Although many users enjoyed the polls, some felt like their attention was split between the ongoing debate and the polls popping up.

PROTOTYPING, ROUND 1

Comparison between prototyping round 1 and round 2

Key points identified from the post-prototyping survey for Round 2.

Overall, there was much more positive feedback for Round 02 of prototyping, highlighting a smoother flow and a more comfortable environment. Participants reported being more likely to use a similar debate platform in Round 2 than Round 1, and they were more likely to be open to different perspectives following the debate experience of Round 2.

Comparisons between post-prototyping survey results for Round 1 (purple) vs. Round 2 (red).

FINAL PROTOTYPE

DebateTable, the app

Our final prototype shifts the experience from Discord to an app. It includes both the text- and video-based debate types and implements elements of the dashboard, affiliations, and topic generator seen in the first prototyping session, as well as the data visualization, clear user flow, and before/after polls of the second prototyping session.

Onboarding

The onboarding flow features "Hot Seat", a daily notification that prompts users to think about a random topic, as well as a "Tell Us About Yourself" page to help curate their dashboard (both with their interests and opposing viewpoints to combat selective exposure).

The DebateTable app features the text and live (previously called 'video-based') debate formats from Round 1 of prototyping, as well as the video watching format and clear user flow of Round 2.

Dashboard & debate formats

The dashboard shows the latest trending topics as well as news, categorized by their stance, and debate tables about current events. DebateTable features 3 different debate formats: text, live, and video. 

How did we address our goal?

In online communities, there tends to be a hierarchy and unspoken social rules, which is very apparent on platforms like Twitter and Reddit. With this follow-the-herd effect, if the top of the hierarchy begins to speak up, that causes the rest of the hierarchy to as well. Similarly, in our prototyping sessions, when the moderators (our team) and the more talkative participants began to talk, others chimed in as well; when moderators did not begin the conversation, other participants didn’t either. Breaking the ice and encouraging user confidence through features like polls and text-based (less intimidating than video-based) chats helped us unlock this part of the DebateTable experience.

In addition, we weren’t sure how much of an impact the different types of debates would even make on existing viewpoints, but we were surprised to find through our surveys that just simple guiding questions and these conversations altered perspectives quite a bit (based on the pre-debate poll results vs. the post-debate poll results). This shows that with the right incentive and motivation for users to use the app, DebateTable could create significant change.

WHAT I LEARNED

The two Cs: context and community

This project marked my first time experience prototyping, and I found it to be an insightful experience. Instead of simply pitching an idea and letting prototypers usability test through clicking screens, I got to truly know the user and their problems within a specific context when they were immersed in the debating experience. 

As a spearheader of the project, I also became comfortable with fostering a sense of connection within groups by really listening to others during prototyping sessions and lightening the mood so that people feel supported when they speak up.

NEXT STEPS

The art of smoother, safer, and beyond

The ‘Smoother’
Based on the positive insights we received from our second prototyping session, we know there are people who realistically use this app. We would like to prototype with more users and have there be a way to facilitate a seamless experience as both a debater and audience member.

The ‘Safer’
Although DebateTable aims to narrow echo chambers and bridge the gap between polarized ideologies, there is no way currently to manage cyberbullying when encountering different viewpoints or to fully enable open conversations. This is something we wish to explore more through user testing.

The ‘Beyond’
The DebateTable app can be implemented beyond the scope of public online communities by stepping into the zone of pre-established, interconnected communities that require an online space to hold debates. For instance, academic institutions can apply DebateTable for speech and debate clubs that can customize their own debate rooms, topics, and channels for private usage. We’d also like to create a fully functional app ready to be used by novice and experienced debaters alike from worldwide (instead of US-centric) to combat the effects of echo chambers to an even greater extent.

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