Sep 09

Four steps to a meaningful Social Web

Our real life relationships are not bounded by accepting/ignoring/blocking/following, they are far more complicated than that. The social web is still very early in its development and is likely to take years to mature.

We’re only yet building Connections and Groups. Relationships are starting to form in places as systems learn from people’s interactions (email, IM, social networks), but it will take many years to for computers to understand Meaning. Understanding meaning will be necessary to provide tools that deeply support people’s communication needs, and to provide advertising that people really value.

There are many examples on today’s social networks to illustrate our early development state:

- Awkward friend suggestions for people you don’t want to be connected to.
- Only accepting certain requests because you feel some sort of obligation.
- People from very different parts of your life coming together in an unnatural context e.g. both commenting on your status update but with different perspectives.
- Some of your connections asking you to explain your status update (which was actually a private joke with other connections).
- People from one aspect of your life (e.g. work) seeing content from another aspect (e.g. clubbing) that you’d prefer them not to see.
- Seeing content from people you don’t care about and missing content from people you really care about.

Sep 09

The local maximum of social media

Tara Hunt as published a nice presentation on how people need to “forget about social media strategies, and think about customer-centric business strategies”. I’ll add another layer of complexity. They also need to stop thinking about what people do on the web, and start thinking about how the web fits into the rest of people’s lives.

I hear so much hype about social media marketing plans these days. Typically it involves something to do with Twitter, and something to do with Facebook. That’s fine, you may create something compelling using these tools, but you’ll only ever reach a local maximum. You’re very unlikely to get through to people in a deep, long-lasting, emotional manner unless you consider how the web fits into the rest of their lives.

The reason is that people don’t just spend their time online. In fact, according to a Nielsen report for Q2 2009, they spend somewhere around 25 hours online every month – or just over an hour a day. To really understand what people need and want, to really understand how to make your offering or message resonate with them, you need to understand what they do for the other 23 hours of their day. Aside from sleeping and working, how else are people spending their time? Who do they interact with? What do they do? What things do they get excited about?

People don’t care about the internet, they care about other people.

Sep 09

The misperception of “real time”

Many people are excited about “real time”. Technologists get excited by updates in real time, news in real time; marketers get excited about customer feedback in real time.

But what is real time?

I’d argue that when we think about real time, we should be thinking more holistically about how people form memories and brand perceptions. People’s memories are based on their aggregated experiences over time. We should not lose sight of this as we get excited about measuring feedback in seconds and nanoseconds. Real time can be measured in days, weeks and months. People form brand perceptions over time – over a period of weeks and months of product use.

We’re in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Responded quickly to customer feedback and adapting your offering is great, but let’s remember that sometimes people grow to love things. When I first heard In Rainbows by Radiohead I didn’t like it. Thankfully Radiohead didn’t re-write the album based on my initial feedback. It’s now in my top 10 favourite albums.

Feedback measured after months of product usage is real time too.

Sep 09

Retaining context in live update streams

When designing live update streams, it’s easy to assume that people are following along all the time. But many people drop in and out, following along for short bursts at a time. Here’s a nice example of adding in context to the live stream from the BBC. It doesn’t assume that the viewer already knows the leaderboard and can figure out the latest score from the text. And it also works well for someone viewing the stream for the first time.