by C.G. Lynch

Five Things To Remember When Designing Social Software

Mar 25, 20084 mins
Enterprise Applications

Josh Porter, a web-designer and researcher who founded a consulting company called Bokardo Design, cited his five principles for designing social software this morning at the SNAP Summit 2.0 in San Francisco.

1) The lesson. Porter is referencing the well-known social bookmarking site, which allows users to save their favorite pieces of content and access them anywhere (rather than save them to a specific browser on a specific machine). What he particularly finds important about the site from a design perspective is that any person could find it useful, even if they don’t interact with other users. “The reason people used was to save bookmarks for later,” he says. “Personal value proceeds social value. All these services should be great tools even if your friends don’t use them.”

2) Tie Behavior to Identity. Porter noted that the idea of identity is often associated with profile pages for social software, like you’d have on LinkedIn, Facebook or MySpace. But he said that isn’t the case for other pieces of social software, which tend to focus on a more specific function and aren’t nearly as broad. For instance, on ebay, people don’t often know the real name of the person they are buying or selling from on the site. That said, ebay has designed the site in such a way that they users can see how well someone has bought, sold and made transactions on the site through a ratings system. “You don’t know who they are and you won’t find their name, but they provide an amazing amount of features that allow you to assess their trustworthiness in the system,” he says. “You just need to know their behavior.”

3) Give recognition. The best example of this, according to Porter, is digg. The idea of digg is to let users submit stories and vote them up to the homepage.  Not long after the site started to grow, they designed an interface that showed the top “diggers” – people who submitted stories and most often saw them voted up the homepage. “As you might imagine, this caused them to start competing,” says Porter. “As they got used to the site, the top diggers owned a lot of content that made it to the digg homepage. They knew the system, and helped each other out.” The problem? The people who came to digg later in the game could never break into the stratosphere of top diggers because those elite few had gained such a powerful lead, and essentially controlled what went to the home page. Since Digg assigned “recognition” to those top diggers by creating the top diggers page, it was easy for them to keep a high ranking. As a result, Porter notes, it’s better to let your entire user-base assign recognition.

4) Show causation. In terms of social interaction, it’s important for users to know why they’re using it and what value they get from it. A site that does this well, he argues, is Netflix. “They ask you to rate movies so they can know what movies to recommend to you,” he says. “Netflix shows the causation of what you’re doing.”

5) Leveraging reciprocity. “It’s a basic principle of human interaction that often goes unnoticed because it’s always present,” Porter says, who notes the reason users interact with pieces of social software revolves on reciprocity: the more they give, the more they get. In other words, they might review a restaurant at a site because they want to make sure no one eats there again (if it was bad). Or they’ll leave a review on Amazon because they feel strongly that people should read a book they just read. Conversely, next time they choose to read a book, they can rely on their peers to steer them in the proper direction.