I usually start writing new entries after the weekend, but yesterday just didn’t work out. I was in a car accident with 6 other cars on the freeway. Nobody hurt, but I parked my car in the back of the car in front of me, so I wasn’t going anywhere after that. It took a few hours of getting alternative transportation, and from the picture below you can see the damage to my car.
Anyway, I was planning to write something on human behaviour. It comes from observing my wife making her first moves onto a social network, in this particular case Hyves in the Netherlands. The observations are not statistically founded, but they depict, in my opinion, some basics that have some universal truth in them.
My wife uses Internet and mobile. She is not a tech person, but instead uses these means to an end. She doesn’t care about the technology itself, but if it helps her communication needs then she will try it. She has gotten numerous invites to join Hyves over the past year or so, but wouldn’t join. Main reason? “I can already call, SMS, e-mail, and IM my friends. I don’t need anything else”.
I think I might be responsible for her finally trying it out. I had told her that I joined Facebook and that a friend I went to High school with had found me there. It was curiosity that killed the cat. She went on to create a profile and started adding current friends.
So observing her trying to make it work (I didn’t help her ;-)) I noticed a few things:
- Initially she put a lot of work into the profile creation. Not so much in updating personal information, but more into the visual aspects of it. She added a number of widgets to make it look more personalised. She ended up adding mostly slide shows with pictures. That’s what makes it personal. But, it wears down quickly. Once satisfied with it, she hardly takes the time to update it.
- After adding current friends, she started using the search bar to find people she knew from the past and contacted them
- She doesn’t use it to look at other profiles, unless they are people she actually knows
- She really hates the UI, hates the complexity of adding widgets, customisation (too much one size fits all) and the slowness of the site and the way it loads changes
- She likes the interaction with new and old friends, but doesn’t understand why she always has to go to her hyves profile in order to interact with them (she gets e-mail alerts, but can’t see everything in the e-mail)
- She doesn’t trust the site itself, and she is concerned with privacy. She sets the privacy controls pretty tight, only friends can see it all. She has been contacted by people she doesn’t know. When that happens she blocks them.
- She talks about her hyves experiences with her friends, and they all seem to have the same types of issues with it.
Her behavior is probably quite different from the younger generation that now invades Facebook and MySpace, so there are bound to be differences. But I also think there are similarities that we can learn from:
- Interaction is the most important functionality for any social service. It is not the network, the profile, the widgets, gadgets, promotions or anything else. It is the ability to find friends and have meaningful interaction with them that provides the value. Interestingly enough, current social networks do not really concentrate on interaction but are more concerned with data collection from “social activities”. I have foudn freinds on Facebook, and now I need to answer these Social Graph question (please confirm you knwo each other from highschool). Yuk. On a related subject, Fred Wilson started yet another TechMeme leaderboard discussion noting that individual bloggers are falling of the top 100 TechMeme leaderboard. He has some concerns in finding the pearls in the blogosphere with everyone looking at the same blogs. I am not concerned with “breaking news” posts, I always pick up the analysis afterwards and the discussions in the comments that lead to new ideas, insights, experiences. Interaction is what it is about, not the “scoop”! On my blog I fortunately get more comments than the posts I write, and that is what makes it fun. And I always respond, because in this interaction we create new things.
- UI is key. I’ve said it before, UI is often the element that inhibits mass adoption of web 2.0 services. While the tech savvy people have no problem copying widget code around to create web items is not an intuitive interface at all.
- Interaction needs (fast) response. Not just from friends, but also from the application of the site. Social networking sites are often not designed well for this. Facebook is rumoured to have a 5000 friends limit because the applications start breaking down after you reach the 2.500 number of friends. I am not a frequent Facebook user, but I have seen quite a number of 404 page errors, and faulty applications. I like Twitter, but the way it tends to break down and stop pushing tweets to me on-line or mobile really sucks.There is a lot of talk right now about the capacity of the Internet and whether or not it will break down due to too high user demands. I’m not concerned with bandwidth issues. I’m concerned with interaction barriers. Closed networks, messages that don’t come across, the inability to respond anywhere and any way I like to is what concerns me.
- Privacy remains an important and unsolved issue. The most important issue here comes from the tension between the user who wants to be in control of his own data (but really isn’t) and the service provider who needs control of the data in order to monetise the service. Opening the walled gardens (thus forcing the service provider to think in user centric services and value creation) isn’t good enough. The user needs to be in control of his data. Data must be set free. That is the most important barrier (next to the interaction thing) that needs to be taken.
We need to support conversations, the conversation never stops. It is through interaction that we all create and experience value. Social networks and most web 2.0 applications are only one step into this new world. They have got to let go of the idea that it is the service or the advertisement deal that is important. Make the user and his interactions important, that is where the money is!