Web App Summit: Learning from Social Web Applications

by Luke Wroblewski January 25, 2007

At the UIE Web App Summit in Monterey, Joshua Porter walked through what designers can learn from the success of Social Web Applications:

  • Most people tend to focus on visual design when evaluating the quality of Web sites. However, several highly successful Web sites (My Space, Craig’s List, & Amazon) are not designed well from a visual or interaction design perspective.
  • These sites, while lacking in visual & interaction design, have great social design.
  • When conducting a large-scale e-commerce study, UIE found that users often went to amazon.com before buying something on another e-commerce site to research their purchases. They called this the “Amazon Effect”.
  • The content people used on Amazon was highly social: user reviews, recommendations, user-generated shopping lists, and more. In fact, Amazon had 11 social features on each & every product page.
  • Sites with good social design model the social lives, goals, and interactions of their users.

Design Elements: the lowest-level building blocks of design that can be used to form higher-level structures.

  • Visual Design: line, size, color, shape, texture, pattern, light, value
  • Interaction Design: button, input, link, screen, navigation, cursor, check box
  • Social Design: messaging, sharing, collaborating, rating, reviewing, gossiping, recommending, voting, arguing, networking

Design Principles: higher-order guides that deal with the relationship between elements.

  • Visual Design: contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity
  • Interaction Design: anticipation, autonomy, consistency, readability, learnability, metaphor, explorability, etc.
  • Social Design: motivation, identity, control, independence, privacy, authority, gaming, community, emergence
  • Motivation: identify primary motivation & create a golden path to achieve it. (del.icoi.us bookmarking)
  • Identity: let people manage their identity online like they do offline (MySpace profile)
  • Control: Users want control though they may never take advantage of it (Facebook news feed)
  • Independence: a necessary part of enabling the wisdom of crowds. If achieved, then popularity is valuable.
  • Privacy: different for everyone but a key consideration for application design.
  • Authority: built up over time based on agreement on who is right or in charge.
  • Gaming: it is human nature to compete and a site can benefit (digg)
  • Community: it is not a feature set. It is a feeling people get with shared interests or experiences.
  • Emergence: effects over time & effects at larger scales.
  • Personal benefit always precedes social benefit: the Delicious lesson.