Web App Masters: Designing the Social In

by Luke Wroblewski April 28, 2010

At the Web App Masters Tour in Minneapolis MN, Christian Crumlish provided an overview of social design principles and patterns in his talk Designing The Social In.

  • What does social really mean? It’s about people, their relationships, and how they deal with each other
  • User interface is singular. Social interface is plural. Social interfaces support communication and interaction between people
  • Many social features on the Web have been around for a long time (sign up, invite, comments, sharing, etc.)
  • Any new form of social interaction is inherently awkward. It takes time to develop new customs and ways of communicating and forming relationships.

Five Social Principles

  • Pave the cowpaths: note the natural paths that arise when people use something and build systems that support these paths. Example: Dogster started as a photo-sharing site. They noticed people uploaded lots of pictures of pets so the company pivoted to create a social network for dogs
  • Talk like a person: when you want people to relate to other human beings, legalese doesn’t cut it. If you talk to users like a human being, they are more likely to be in a “social mode”. Use conversational voice: does this copy sound like something an actual human being would write? Self-deprecating error messages: don’t blame the user. Take the blame yourself. Ask questions: it prompts conversational responses. Your vs. My: when you use “me” it’s about personal ownership. If you use “Your” –someone else is talking to you. Implies there are others in the room/site. No Joking Around: someone will always misinterpret your humor
  • Embrace Openness: use open standards, share data outside the bounds of your application, accept external data within the sphere of your application, support two-way interoperability. Everything is connected to everything else –it’s a Web
  • Learn from Games: game mechanics are systems that make games fun, compelling, and addictive. You can use the same principles in social design. Games, like social networks, are only designed to a point. They have rules, boundaries, and structures but do not dictate a singular experience
  • Respect the Ethical Dimension: be conscious of the ethical qualities of social design. There is an ethical element when people are involved –private data, who they know, etc. In any ethical decision, the business, the individual, and the collective/community have a stake.

Five Social Pattern Groups

  • Social patterns are fundamentally organized around three concepts: self (about the individual and how they represent themselves), activities (what do people do), and communities (more than one person at a time)
  • Give people a way to be identified: how will they and their presence be represented? Reputation helps people determine if they can trust others. Identity doesn’t always have to represented as a complicated or robust profile page. You can use lightweight user cards instead
  • Make sure there is a “there” there. Social objects give people a reason to talk. We connect and bond over shared interests or topics. Social networks form around social objects, not the other way around
  • Give people something to do. Some people will engage in a few small things, and others may engage in many or larger scale things. Social activities include: collecting, broadcasting/publishing, sharing, giving feedback, communicating, and collaborating
  • Activities involving objects: Activities lead to relationships: ratings and reviews, public conversations, collecting, reviews, tagging, etc. These are actions on an object that are shared with others. Determine what behaviors you can support in your site using social interactions.
  • Let the community elevate people and the content they value. You need to allow self-moderation in order to scale your service.

Five Social Anti-patterns

  • Cargo cult anti-pattern: when you don’t know why things work -don’t try to recreate experiences by simply copying things
  • Don’t break email anti-pattern: if you are going to use existing communication channels, make sure they work as expected. For example, allow people to respond to emails vs. having a don’t reply email address
  • Password anti-pattern: don’t store people’s username and password in your system. Use secure APIs instead
  • Ex-boyfriend ant-pattern: the suggestions many social sites make for connections are people you may not want to connect with. Make sure people can turn off these suggestions
  • Potemkin village: avoid overly built out sections of your site before you have any users at all. People will try to find things to do but see no one is there. Instead start with less places, then split as needed.