You can walk into any bar on any street and immediately make conclusions about whether it is for you. How bright or dark is it? How clean or dirty is it? What’s on tap, Budweiser or India Pale Ale? What’s on the walls? Who is in there? What age are they? What are they wearing? The list goes on. These are some of the things that make up an environment, and they give us signals about whether this place is for us.
One of the most important things when designing online social experiences is to consider how the product decisions you make contribute to the “feel” of the place you have built.
Take the example of Kik, which has seen impressive growth since launch by anyone’s standard. When signing-up, Kik aggresively went through your contacts, picked out people already on Kik you may have communicated with at some point in the past, and put those people right in your Inbox as suggestions. Putting aside the glaring lack of informed consent (that’s a post for another day), it seemed like Kik was trying to help get you started by connecting you with people you may know.
However, my experience with Kik was that I could only recognise about half those people. And as the suggestions have continued coming in, I’m starting to recognize none of them. Having people I don’t recognize as a suggested connection gives Kik a certain atmosphere, shaping the environment. It’s less like dinner at a friend’s place, and more like the anonymity in a sweaty heaving nightclub. This is a place where it’s encouraged for strangers to connect.
This aggressive suggestion system may have fueled the impressive Kik growth, but it has also determined the Kik environment. It’s the wallpaper, the choice of furniture, and what’s on the menu. And looking through the comments on the Android App download page gives you a sense of that environment:
If Kik is a place for strangers to give their vital statistics, how could it possibly be a place for connecting with your closest friends? Watch this space to see how Kik evolves, and think carefully about the decisions you are making, and how they are shaping your products environment.