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Social Media Today at Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco - Thursday Update
Posted on March 31st 2009
To kick things off, we thought it appropriate to hear what Erin Malone of Tangible UX and Christian Crumlish of Yahoo had to say about "Designing Social Interfaces." The presentation, essentially a sampling of their upcoming book of the same name, introduced Christian's and Erin's massive, exhaustively organized collection of dos and don'ts, or "patterns" and "anti-patterns" in their terminology, of designing for the social web. The goal is apparently to provide a detailed roadmap for any site manager whose client or boss comes to them with the request to "make this website social."
I won't attempt to list too many of the actual principles that Christian and Erin spoke about, because that would take, well, a book, but essentially, they believe that the core principles of designing for the social web can be divided into three broad categories - representations of the self, activities involving social objects, and community dynamics. Each of these break down into subheadings, so that "representions of the self" consists of engagement, identity, presence, and reputation. The engagement category, for example, consists of best practices for signup features, sending invitations, and welcome pages, while identity refers to profile pages, avatars, personal dashboards, and so on.
Christian and Erin appear to have collected an valuable list of best practices, and devised a useful, if potentially daunting, system of organizing them. They also touched on what seems to us to be a key question of social web design, which I'll paraphrase as follows: Lots of people come and read my content, but they're invisible to each other. What can I do to encourage my visitors to interact?
The answer that the presenters gave was a list of possible solution "patterns," including things like user presence indicators, peer-to-peer awards, "nudging" or "poking" features, and public conversations. These can be fun and useful features, and are certainly part of the answer to this question, but it seems to us that the core of the issue may not simply be providing more features, but designing an effective method for encouraging users to actually use these social media features. Your thoughts?
Update - Tuesday PM:
It's Tuesday afternoon here at the Moscone Center in San Francisco and we're talking about... you guessed it, social web design! This time, LinkedIn's Christina Wodtke is leading a workshop to examine some of her own recommended best practices. Interestingly (to us, anyway), Christina seems to be offering a different perspective on the issue of user engagement that we picked out from this morning's conference.
Unlike Christian and Erin this morning, Christina appears to de-emphasize the importance of the software platform and the various features and methods of communications that it offers. She points out that, after all, countless thriving communities exist based solely on ancient forum software, and even the clunkiest of wiki platforms.
While no one is arguing against optimizing user experience and expanding the possibilities for online communication, this point seems important to highlight. Christina essentially points out that, when people have the desire to interact and communicate, they seem to pretty much find ways to do so regardless of the software features that we make available to them (presuming obviously that at least one mode of communication is available). The core step to building user engagement, then (and here we're reading beyond Christina's own comments), would seem to be creating that desire to interact, or identifying some preexisting source of it, rather than adding fun and convenient features to your site, as much as these may encourage that preexisting desire. Do social features create communities, or do communities merely take advantage of whatever social features are available? Or is it a process of interaction between both? Again, your thoughts?
Update - Thursday 10:00 AM
It's Thursday morning here at Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco (yes, as the more observant among you may have noticed, we skipped out on Wednesday), and Douglas Rushkoff has just launched the day with an intriguing notion, expressed in a relatively brief and broadly-termed speech introduced as "How the Web ate the Economy, and Why This is good for Everyone." His opening statement went something like this: "The current global financial crisis is the web's fault, and it's a good thing." "If we seize the day," he went on, "we can make pretty much everything great, and if not, they'll take back over and make us miserable for a few more centuries."
Clearly, Rushkoff aims to shake things up a bit, but he does have a concrete point, to which Web 2.0 is central. Essentially, Rushkoff has observed that "management and business has become generic," which is to say that managers of corporations have very little involvement with their actual products and industries, and corporations are little more than holding companies - focused on speculative investment rather than real commerce. The value of a company, Rushkoff says, is now based largely on an artifically projected image of speculative value, rather than on the actual products and services the company provides. In other words, a company's value is based largely on a "myth" created by communications and marketing departmnts.
What does this have to do with Web 2.0? Well, according to Rushkoff, the internet "breaks the myth." The transparency introduced by social media, he says, increasingly makes these illusions of artificial value impossible to maintain. Even further, Web 2.0 allows people to create and exchange real value without the involvement of large corporations and banks, according to Rushkoff's view. Major investments from VCs and the like are not necessary to create a valuable startup, for example. Therefore, Rushkoff says, the scarcity-based lending model doesn't work in a Web 2.0 universe. Web 2.0 creates an "opportunity for a net industry to create value sustainably for one another."
In other words, Rushkoff believes that Web 2.0 wholly undercuts the way that business works in our world - and that's good. What do you think of this radical (or is it?) point of view?
Anssi Vanjoki, EVP, Markets for Nokia and Will Wright, creator of Spore (for the uninformed, Spore is a a massively popular new computer game based on the evolution of life), have had their turns, and we've latched onto an interesting common thread between each of their presentations. Predictably, Vanjoki spoke about the coming ubiquity of personal mobile computers, as opposed to cellphones, but he stressed that our interactions will increasingly be contextualized by the virtual world, which will relay data to our friends and contacts about where we are, what we're doing, etc., at any given time. As a result, we will increasingly exist simultaneously in the virtual world as well as the real world. The distinction that we found interesting was Vanjoki's assertion that the virtual world's future is not as some form of "second life," but rather will become increasingly indistinguishable from "real life." He predicts that the two will be constantly interacting.
Similarly, Will Wright is convinced that online identities and real identities are colliding in new and interesting ways, and that the distinction between the two is fading fast. He believes this will be reflected in the gaming world as well. The gaming industry has long been striving to make games more "immersive," attempting to remove the player from reality and insert them fully into a virtual world. This trend is reversing, says Wright. New systems like Wii, for example, take the actual entertainment off the screen - the real fun is watching your friends jumping up and down, waving the controller around, etc. Wright is increasingly interested in creating games that intersect with the real world, responding to what he characterizes as a social trend as well as a technological one.
Are real and virtual (or online) identities no longer separate? And if so, what are the implications of this in terms of how we manage both?