Design of an Open Social Interaction Network: Human needs

After I posted some of my observations about flaws in web 2.0, I received a lot of positive and smart reactions. Becoming a bit overconfident I suggested that we might be able to aid future service design by exploring with more people how to move on to the next level of social interaction. I called them Open Social Interaction Networks (for lack of a better name, any takers?) where the value for the user is central in design, not the value of the network which has been the most important monetizing scheme in almost all current social networks such as Facebook or MySpace.

Since I asked for it I might as well start up the discussion by looking at perhaps the most important aspect of such services, the needs of the people using them. Rolf Skyberg wrote a really excellent presentation on this and took Maslov’s Hierarchy of needs as the basis to explain, that the market puts safety, prosperity and socialisation first.

I would like to look at it from another perspective and see what we can distill when we look at the behavior now on the Internet. It occured to me that there are many opposing beliefs. Some feels the social network is defined by the value and size of the network, while others looks more at quality. Some want their interaction to be public and stretched to the limit of what a human could possibly cope with (See Robert Scoble wanting to handle more than 5000 Twitter and 5000 Facebook relations. That is pretty amazing to me), while others will only be interested in a few qualitative friends. Some feel the network is the value, but it lacks ways to leverage it, others think that separating content form people will do the trick. There are people out there creating content like crazy, while others only consume it. Some want to gain celebrity status while others like being anonymous.

Lets see where this gets us. If I would draw two axes with a few of these parameters and look at what seems to be important to the user, I get:


I’m not in any way pretending to be complete, but it does provide some insight in that people will act differently under different circumstances and in different communities. We might aim to support just one type of interaction in a specific community, and design the possible interactions only for that specific community. But, as we are looking at an improvement for web 2.0, we would also need to look at the boundaries and unification of these interactions. It would need open networks and possibilities to use them privately as well as public.

For me, the following items might be important to a user (not complete I am sure!):

  1. The user would need excellent and easy to use controls to set privacy in a contextual manner. In one occasion he might not want anyone else to know about his interaction with another person, in another he might want to let the whole world know about it. Same thing goes for a user profile. I don’t just mean the Facebook profile we have carefully constructed to be better than reality, but instead a user profile is defined by his interaction with others. Being able to switch between private and public interaction, thus forming both a private and public profile would be a powerful tool.
  2. In some occasions the user might find simple interaction forms sufficient enough, while in others he might want to use more complex forms of interaction. Two things seem important here. The user can have access to all forms of communication without a “Geekness”factor. So Mobile Internet as an example will only do, if the user experience and handling are simple and intuitive enough to match some of the on-line interfaces available to me. And second, communication and interaction are basic services for all. So no forced Twitter account on the Twitter network, but a Twitter-like service across any network I chose to use.
  3. There would be a need to be able to organise my friends and family, and distant or unknown relations into different categories. Again, simplicity is the key here. Allowing smart categorization of the people in my network will help me focus my energy on the type of interaction I want. I personally would like to get rid of the current practice of “asking permission to be your friend” It is awkward and defaults to limit my possibilities to interact. I’d trade it with better blocking options for abuse.
  4. We would also need new ways to connect, explore and find information and people across many different networks. this calls for OpenID being implemented across the networks. While we might use conventional browsing and searching techniques for that, I am personally intrigued by the work of Jonathan Harris, who has done some amazing projects which allow total new ways of organising and exploring people and information on the Internet.
  5. We need some sort of decentralization of services and social networks in order to be able to leverage them all as a user. this will also ensure the value is user centric, not network centric. One way of dealing with that might be to integrate services into our web browser. This immediately makes the Internet evolve around me, instead of me having to go to all these different portal destinations. DISCLAIMER HERE: I am involved in a (currently stealth) project that integrates cool interaction services into your web browser (more on that some other time) so I am positively biased to such solutions. Current integration on the web (take NetVibes or Facebook as examples) is not sufficient yet as they are essentially destination based making the destination more important than myself.
  6. If my profile is created by interaction with others, then using it contextually during my explorations could be a powerful functionality. User controlled of course, but I might be interested in locating people, content or even advertisements while exploring the world based upon my current actions and previous interactions. It seems to me this would be a better matching factor than for example tagging or previous surfing behavior only.

Got to stop here as the story is becoming too long already. Let’s hear what you have to say on this. More to come in the next weeks on supporting such needs with tools and technology, and possible monetizing schemes.


About vanelsas

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This entry was posted in advertisement, Facebook, friends, internet evolves around you (not), Mobile Internet, Open Social Interaction Networks, OpenID, sharing, social networks, web 2.0 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Design of an Open Social Interaction Network: Human needs

  1. S. Srinivasan says:

    Your thoughts are perfectly on target. We are not done with Web2.0 until there is a solution to integrating one’s fragmented identity. Web 1.0 came to a neat conclusion with My Yahoo, iGoogle, etc. because this was just about content. Now for Web2.0 to conclude it needs to become REALLY personal. Today I am in control of my content on the Internet – but I am not yet in control of my identity because in this connection-oriented world my faceted identity has now become an aggregate reflection of my connections with others. Only if we get this piece done can we realistically move on to the Semantic Web and manage relations with arbitrary objects – not just people.

  2. Alexander van Elsas says:

    Thanks, you may want to look at some of the work done by Dick Hardt (look up Identity 2.0), or lcikc on the video I have on the right side of my BLOG. He has done a lot of work on on-line identities.

  3. S. Srinivasan says:

    The approach for the Higgins framework stems from the heterogeneous web-services integration needs of Identity2.0. Although appropriate in the enterprise consulting space of applications, the Higgins framework seems a bit of an overkill to fit the nuanced world of lightweight communications. Only if individuals use a service for daily communications will it actually get wide spread adoption. There is a large gap between using a framework for the entire space of enterprise apps, and expecting that to drive universal user adoption.

  4. Alexander van Elsas says:

    I agree with you on that. This is probably the greatest challenge for Indentity 2.0. I also wonder if it is simply a generation problem. If I look at the way my children adopt new technologies but also have a very different opinion on privacy I wonder if there will be a need for such a framework. See my earlier post on that subject here:

  5. I find myself coming back to this post of yours repeatedly. I notice of all points 1-6 above, this cool project of yours is currently focused on point #5 – but isn’t that what 8hands, Pownce, Flock, etc. are trying to build? I.e. a Social Client for Interactions?

  6. Alexander van Elsas says:

    Srini, glad you like it. The project I am working on does have some similarities to the examples you provide, but it will also be different in many ways. I hope to give you guys an update on it soon, but right now I can’t. But one thing is for sure. If you have been reading up on my posts you will know we will focus on user centric services, hopefully wiht a UI desing that people will find easy to use 😉

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