Social Design Strategies

A combination of being the first slot of the day and daylight saving time kicking in, meant that one of the highlights of the conference still has seats available. Good for me as I arrived with only a few minutes to spare, had this been in the middle of the day I wouldn;t have been so lucky. The panel of Social Design Strategies consisted of:

Joshua Porter on How to Encourage Behavior
A condensed history of the last 15 years of the internet:

  1. Early websites – static for reading.
  2. Early webapps – websites with database on the backend, started to be a two-way communications, e.g.: banking & e-commerce sites
  3. Social webapps – last few years, social applications that enable conversations between people using the software.

So, we’re considering the design issues that come over time as you see more and more social interaction of people using your website. One of the big challenges is, how do you encourage good behavior? How do you get people doing the activity your website is made for?

1. Tying behavior to identity. If it isn’t, people can’t be held responsible for the things they do there. Using real name gives more authority. For example, reviews on Amazon that are tied to real names have more weight than those of ‘A Customer’. Another example is eBay, a web service with greater revenues than the GDP of many countries. eBay has a sophisticated behavior rating system that defines the identity and authority of the buyer / seller. This is a system identity rather than a real-world identity, since the name of the buyer / seller is not known until after the auction is over.

2. Give Recognition. For example, Digg provided a chart of the Top Diggers, those who’d submitted the most stories. However in the case of Digg they decided to remove the feature top Diggers feature because it became very competitive for a small set of users to the detriment of the rest. Recognition is good, but on Digg it was cumulative, so it was easier to stay on the top once you already were there, and made it harder for others to reach that spot. On Threadless, for example, recognition tapers relatively quickly after a designer has won a contest. Recognition works best when it’s not permanent.

2. Showing causation.For example, Netflix ratings. The more movies you rate, the better recommendations you will receive. The feedback is instant, too, since you recommendations are refreshed based on your ratings.

3. Leverage reciprocity.When someone does something of value to you, you feel inclined or obligated to be reciprocal. On LinkedIn, this happens through recommendations. When someone gives another person a professional recommendation, the probability is that you will say something about the other person.

Daniel Burka on Privacy and Community:
What are the hot points for user regarding privacy? The diagram below shows have different social networking sites have different levels of privacy:


1. Identity.Their image, their name. Digg doesn’t require a real name, it’s very open. On the other hand, Pownce is about interpersonal communication between people. Unless you have a reciprocal relationship with someone, you can only see their first name and initial of last name.

2. Friends.
Being able to see others’ friends, which is a great way of growing a social network, is strange thing in the real world. You can’t walk down the street, walk up to a random person and automatically know everyone they know.

3. Communication. Communications exist on a range of private to very public. For example, on Digg, there’s a shout feature, because it is very public act. Even then shouts are not as obvious as they could be and some people still don’t understand.

4. Identification of activity. People can see what you’ve Dugg, what comments you’ve made. On the other hand, Facebook Beacon takes this too far, at least in their first implementation. It’s important to have a “gradieted” site, where it’s simple on the surface, but as you gather experience, you find new functionality and features that will keep you interested and active.

5. Build in Control. Make it as simple as possible to control privacy settings. Don’t provide too many options as users will get confused. It’s harder to remove controls once their being used.

6. Transparency. Preferably you show and don’t have to tell. For example, when you make a post, tell the user whether it’s a private or a public post, so user can make an informed judgement. Protect the user from uninformed actions.

Todd Sieling on Ma.gnolia’s Adventures in Spam Control

Spam is a drag on social software: 75-80% of new accounts are spam! Besides bein a nuisance for users, it’s costly for the service owner. The primary methods spammers use include:

  1. Creating many accounts on a site, to game up their spam content.
  2. Appearing too legit to quit at first, and later having few legit-looking links.
  3. The “Joe SEO” with “helpful” get rich quick advice. They feel they’re not spamming, but helping people by sharing information; they don’t realize how they’re taxing people’s enjoyment of the site.
  4. You can’t fool me: spammers that are profile aware (sometimes by copy and pasting information from others’ profiles) and make it look like they’re legitimate users.
  5. Had enough yet?: importing volume links makes it very easy for spammers.

The implication is that spam will not go away because it is difficult to control against these methods by machine. It’s not possible to win the war, so strategies have to be developed to mitigate the spam.

The principal strategies that didn’t work include:

  • No-follow: Magnolia thought this would take away the incentive, but this doesn’t have an effect, partly because there are too many sites that don’t apply no-follow.
  • Akismet: this is a “machine logic” method of dealing with spam that didn’t work; too much spam got through and false positives got flagged.
  • Weed on sight: too much volume, not enough time.
  • Recaptcha: again, a machine solution.

However, some strategies did work:

  • First of all, accept there’s no 100% solution so you can focus your resources more wisely.
  • Give an opportunity for your members to become “gardeners”: don’t just use a technological solution, but use human intelligence. Enable trusted members of the community to flag abusive users, but don’t make it into a job, a contest or a vendetta. Gardeners will also identify and develop new gardeners. What’s the reward? Mostly, it’s that they’re contributing to the community in an altruistic way. For example, Alex Jones on has a gardener’s shovel next to his name. (Josh Porter mentions there’s no pure altruism, and that people do things to help themselves. Recognition, authority, rank is a strong motivator). Well, Alex Jones is in the audience and stood up to say that he discovered Magnolia very early on, set up some groups relevant to him and that his activity on Magnolia has helped him raise his own profile. So he feels indebted to help make Magnolia a better place, both out of gratitude and because a clean site helps him more.
  • Create a whitelist (with a shade of gray)

Question on monetization of social sites. Josh mentions that it needs to be indirect. Build the culture of the community and support the culture and the revenue will come indirectly, as a fallout of their increased passion.


1 comment so far

  1. […] excellent panel session at I attended at SXSW 2008 on designing social networking sites, entitled Social Design Strategies. One of the panelists, Joshua Porter, has just published book on the subject: Designing for the […]

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