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The Convergent Evolution of Social Networks

LinkedIn has recently launched a redesign of their profile page to feature a wide image header set behind your picture and bio. It’s only available for customers of LinkedIn’s newest (and most affordable) premium membership — dubbed “Spotlight”. For just $10/mo, you could get the new header today. Other members will have to wait a few months for the changes to roll out.

When you now look at the profile pages for these three major social networking platforms together, it’s clear there’s some convergent evolution going on here.

flotus-new-convergence 2014-06-06 15-22-19

Note: Michelle Obama’s LinkedIn screenshot is a mock up

While it’s a little funny to see, it’s also a natural phenomenon. Technology products copy each other all the time because they realize that if an idea works well in one situation, it can also work well in a different one. A few examples:

  • Swipe-to-Unlock on iOS and Android
  • Tagging people with @username in Twitter and Facebook
  • Controller vibrations in N64, Playstation, and XBox
  • Swipe Right in Tinder and Buffer’s Daily
  • Stickers in Line, Path, Messenger
  • Autocomplete in Google, Firefox, Bing, YouTube

We sometimes call these similarities design patterns. Many product designers are familiar with the site Pattern Tap, a resource that shows how different websites deal with navigation elements or delete info requests. Design patterns help users familiarize themselves with an interface and make it easier to figure out how to do what they want to do.

As social networks jockey for position and figure out ways to attract users, drive engagement, and generate revenue, expect them to continue to innovate and try new things, and then consolidate again as they figure out what works.

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