Growth5 Blog

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Future of "Social" Online

Paul Adams, Google's User Research Lead for Social, recently posted slides on a talk he gave about his research and designing for social networking interactions. You can check out the presentation here. It is also embedded below.

The presentation includes 224 slides. If you don't have time to click through the whole document, the highlights are in the 13 points below. If you don't have time for the highlights, go to #13 below or page 211 in the presentation.

The highlights:

1. Paul starts the presentation off by providing some context: "I spend a lot of time doing research with people on how they use social media. I sit down with people, and have them map out their social networks for me, and we look at how they use tools like email, Facebook, Twitter, their phone, and so on. One of the things we talk about is the differences between their social network online, and their social network offline."

2. "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."

3. "The social web is not a fad, and it's not going away... It's a fundamental change, a re-architecture, and in hindsight its evolution is obvious... Whether you like it or not, everyone (in this space) will need to learn how to design social features on websites."

4. Search has been a "solitary" experience, but what happens after we search often gets shared with others. Twitter is an example of how search results can better combine with people. "People are increasingly using the web to get the information they need from each other, rather than from businesses."

5. People are changing how they spend their time online. They are spending more time interacting with people, and much less time consuming content from websites... "The social web, and all social media that operate within it, is a way of thinking as opposed to a new channel... It's about rethinking how you make plans when your customers are in the center and in control."

6. "New technology doesn't change how our brains work. Social networks are not new. For thousands of years, people have formed into groups, built strong and weak relationships with others, formed allegiances, and spread rumor and gossip." The social web is simply the online world catching up to the offline world.

7. "The technology may be changing fast but the underlying human motivations are changing very slowly, and in many places not at all. We need to first understand what is motivating people to use these services; not jump on the latest social networking bandwagon."

8. The word "friends" is not helpful. People have groups of friends based on many factors. There are many different levels of friends also. Currently, a service like Facebook puts all your friends in one bucket. It's difficult to message them properly as some groups of your friends will know what you're talking about, others won't.

In Google's research, they have found a recurring 342 groups of people. Of those 342 groups, only 43 of them (12%) included the term "friends". Only 3% were called "friends". According to this research, 85% of the groups of your "friends" on Facebook aren't actually your "friends". What does this mean for designing on the web?

"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."

9. People have an average of 130 Facebook friends. They only interact regularly with 4 to 6. This is mirrored offline via phone usage. 80% of phone calls are made to the same 4 people.

Buying decisions are often influenced by this same group of 4 to 6 people. The "strong ties" group.

Our "weak ties" group consists of no more than 150 people. This has been consistent throughout history. That's what our brain can keep track of. "Social networks don't necessarily create more connections, they just make our existing connections more visible." Social networks have made it easier to connect with our "weak ties" - we otherwise would have had to meet up with them or call them. Online is more convenient.

"Temporary ties" are the people we interact with temporarily. The person who bought from us on eBay, the person who answered our forum question, the person who wrote the online hotel review, etc... Designing for the temporary ties becomes difficult because it ends up being about trust. If they bought the product we are buying there's a good chance you can trust their review, if on eBay they have had lots of successful transactions, it makes it easier to trust them, but remember, eBay.com is designed to help you make your own trust assessments.

"Knowing which tie you're designing for can really help you prioritize features."

10. Communication: "On average, social network users use phone calls and text messages more frequently than social networks to communicate. This is true for teens as well as adults."

"People's online communication channels need to support the right types of interaction and audience. Ensure you know what your users need. A feature that is designed to support one-to-one communication will look different than one designed to support one-to-many communication."

11. Influence: "We rarely make decisions alone. In the 1960's, Tupperware built a million dollar business on the fact that we rarely make decisions alone."

"The problem is that we all have limited access to information, and limited memory. Because of this, we have learned to rely on others to help us make decisions. We assume other people know things we don't. In fact, we do this so often, that we automatically look to the actions of others, even when the answer is obvious."

"Studies into buying behavior and decision making have consistently found that we are disproportionately influenced by the opinions and actions of the people around us." People listen more closely to their strong ties, whether they are experts in the area being discussed or not.

On the other end of the spectrum, we listen to and are influenced to a certain degree by temporary ties as well. What is the most popular article on a news site, what are people paying for the same flight I'm buying, how are people rating products on Amazon, etc...

12. Privacy: "This problem is about transparency. 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."

13. Summary:

a) design for multiple groups
b) design for different relationships
c) design tools to support how people look to others

Thanks Jake!

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