Social Design

The last two workshops I have attended on the UI11 Conference were both by Joshua Porter. The first one covers ‘social web applications’, the second “Is tagging right for your site?”.

Social Web Applications

For everyone who hadn’t noticed: social applications are hot. Sites like MySpace, Ebay, YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr and Digg – just to name a few – are all listed in the top 40 of most popular websites.

Social web applications are sites / applications that support social activities and allow people to have social goals. Social web applications contain more or all of the following features:

  • Profiles: you need it, because it models the person
  • Friends & family
  • Groups (group formation): people who have the same interest
  • Blogs & comments (conversation)
  • Co-editing (collaborating)
  • Share this (sharing)
  • Governance (needed when people step over certain lines)

When designing a social application, keep in mind the following principles:

  • Personal precedes social: The application should at least serve a personal value. Nobody will tag, review or rank without any personal interest.
    The cold start problem: How do you create value for the first few users? The first users are the creators and their friends. Some companies offer rewards to get people to contribute (iPod Shuffles, books etc.)
  • Show identity: showing it creates accountability for everything done with that account. If someone offends, simply remove the account.
  • Enable self-expression: it confers ownership to users.
  • Create illusion of control
  • Expect competition: if competition is possible, it’s probable.
  • Nurture community: “add a friend’, ‘forward to friend’
  • Recognize group effects: For example, social status is very important to lots of people;
  • Ask for metadata: it enriches the relations.
  • Aggregate! (and show it): show trends, rankings, overviews.

Is tagging right for your site?

Tagging is a great way of having people organize their own data (URLs, photos, videos etc.) in an online environment. Mentally it’s a lot easier than having to assign your data in the best suitable category of a predefined structure.

Keep in mind that tagging is primarily for personal use (mostly for future retrieval). Why personal? Because people choose tag words from their frame of reference. And that is different for each person.
This doesn’t mean that tags have no value on higher levels. Tags have social value:

  • Seeing what is popular and valuable over time;
  • Seeing what specific people are finding;
  • Establishing relationships between tags;
  • Identifying variations in tags with the same meaning;
  • Finding people with common interests.

Tagging can’t be the primary reason to use a system. It has to serve a need or value. Consider really well if your site will benefit from it.

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