Highlights From Google Researcher’s Advice on Improving Online Social Networks by Understanding Real Ones

Summary: Businesses and individuals who want to improve their online social activity will learn a lot from this presentation on the design flaws of online social networks, and how they could be addressed by providing communication options for the subtle and varied nature of people’s relationships with one another.

Who provided the presentation: Paul Adams, at thinkoutsidein.com, is a lead researcher for social at Google. He investigates how people use social media. He works on Buzz and YouTube. He wrote a book, Social Circles. It’s out in August.

Rumor mill: Mr. Adams’s observations could provide insight into how Google might approach its rumored competitor to Facebook, Google Me.

Get on with it: The slide show of the presentation is embedded below, and after it I’ve provided a list of 36 slides (out of 216), along with descriptions of them, that I found particularly interesting. I copied the language from the slides or slightly modified it for brevity.

The problem is that the social networks we’re creating online don’t match the social networks we already have offline. This creates many problems, and a few opportunities.

The social web is not a fad, and it’s not going away. it’s not an add-on to the web as we know it today. It’s a fundamental change, a re-architecture, and in hindsight its evolution is obvious.

The web was originally built to link static documents together, but evolved to incorporate social media, and now we’re seeing the web built around people, where their profiles and content are moving with them as they visit different websites.

People are increasingly likely to find out about products and brands from their friends rather than from your business. It means that it is much harder to control how people first come to experience your messages.

Almost all the sites and apps we design from now on will have embedded social features.

Understanding sociability will become a core requirement for designing online. Almost all of us will need to become skilled in social web design.

The social web, and all social media that operate within it, is a way of thinking as opposed to a new channel. It’s not about sales, or ads, or click-through rates. It’s about pursuing relationships and fostering communities of consumers. It’s about rethinking how you make plans when your customers are in the center and in control.

Understand behavior, not technology: The people using [technology] don’t care about [it]; they care about the communication that the technology enables.

A better long term strategy for business is to understand people’s motivations for using new technologies, and not the technologies themselves.

47 – 52
When we sign up, most social networks ask us to create our “friends” group, but no such group exists offline (47-48). … Offline people have multiple groups of friends that form around life stages and shared experiences (52) … Despite trying to mix them, people’s groups remain independent (68).

People create messages on their social networks for a portion of their social network, but their entire network receives the message.

Avoid the use of the word friend for connecting people. Understand how people describe their relationships for the behavior you’re trying to encourage.

Allow people to create custom names for groups, and allow people to rename the group if it changes over time.

Support side conversations. Allow people to fork conversation threads with a smaller number of people.

Though we have unique relationships with each person in a group in our social network, “all our ‘friends’ are treated equally on social networks, and all our contacts appear alphabetically and equal in our mobile phones.”

So much of our lives revolve around our strong ties, and we need to think about designing for them as distinct from other types of relationships. “Strong tie” relationships are our most connected, most important ones; familial relationships, for example. These relationships often involve physical proximity, are maintained over long periods of time, are interacted with very regularly.

Versus weak ties: People you know but don’t care much about. Characteristics: Infrequent communication, friends of friends

Most of us can stay up-to-date with up to 150 weak ties. This is a limitation of our brain. This number has been consistent throughout history.

Then several slides providing interesting examples of groups reaching 150 members, and then rupturing or intentionally splitting off into new groups.

Social networks changed weak-tie relationships by making it easier for updating ourselves on developments in them (no more phone calls, or meetings). Just check out their activity stream; “it gives us a lightweight route to get back in touch. This is a powerful route when we’re sourcing new information.”

But strong and weak ties are not enough when we think of relationships online. We need a new category of tie, and I call it the temporary tie. Temporary ties are people that you have no recognized relationship with, but that you temporarily interact with.

You don’t know these people beyond the one conversation you had, or the words they typed and whatever online profile they have. Your interaction with them is temporary. With the rise of user generated content online, temporary ties are becoming more important.

As designers, the biggest thing we need to think about when designing for temporary tie interaction is trust.

Don’t try to design something for all types of relationships. You’ll simply end up with a compromised solution for everyone. Understand which types of relationship ties are most important for what you’re creating, and design primarily for them.

In a world of many types of messages, four things that businesses need to consider when choosing the best communication features for their consumers:

1) The other person and their relationship
2) The content being communicated
3) The urgency of reply required
4) The level of privacy required

Different communication tools are better for different types of communication. Provide the one appropriate to your users’ needs.

We rely on others to make decisions: “If we want people to use our products, to use our website, it is important that we design in features that support our friends making decisions for us.”

How people influence each other is complex, and the role of “influentials” in society is over-estimated.

Whether someone can be influenced is as important as the strength of the influencer.

Two factors in understanding whether someone can be influenced: 1) What their social network looks like; 2) What they have experienced before.

The more people that give us an opinion, the less influenced we are by any one of those opinions.

Consider how to display multiple opinions, and how different versions might change people’s behavior.

People care deeply about how they look to others.

The most important thing to recognize about identity is that people don’t have one identity.

Online, it is hard to set things up so that one group sees you one way and another group sees you a different way. This has to, and will, change.

Some suggestions to enhance the ways people are allowed to represent themselves online.

Our systems need to be absolutely transparent and it is critical that we design this in. People need to understand the consequences of their actions, and we, as designers, need to do our best to make these things clear.

Recap: 212-216
1) Design for multiple groups (for example, true friends, family, colleagues, hobbies) in social networks.
2) Design for different relationships (strong ties, weak ties, temporary ties).
3) Design tools to give people options on how they present different online identities to different groups and individuals.

Found via Skeptic Geek

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