Designing Social Media: a question and some answers

Yesterday I asked on Linked in (and on Facebook, more on that later) What do you consider the […]

Yesterday I asked on Linked in (and on Facebook, more on that later)

What do you consider the greatest challenges in designing for social media/software/networks?

I have gotten many terrific answers, and I’ll share a couple now.

When you are designing social media you are not building and
designing a product in the typical sense of that word. You are really
designing an infrastructure upon which social interaction, and
eventually a community, can build. The affordances needed to “direct”
and “control” the development of a community are very different from
and much more subtle than typical single-user systems that we (as
designers, developers) know. I usually compare it metaphorically to a
soap bubble: you can gently try to push it in a certain direction, but
if if you push too hard, it’ll burst. User-centered design takes on a
whole new meaning when you are building social media and

Klaus Kaasgaard

The greatest challenge is marketing, because marketing determines
who your audience will be more than the quality of your product design.

Design-wise, the answer is similar: understanding who your audience
will be, as chosen (hopefully) in close collaboration with marketing.
If the marketing people don’t exist or aren’t powerful, then the
features and the site design will alone be relied on to determine the
audience — and this will result in a fractured, aimless audience with
no sustainability and no strategy except a hope to get lucky with some
sort of coincidental generation of audience cohesiveness and thus

Clarification: I’m not trying to discount the importance of features or
product design. I just happen to think that, especially among
Christina’s group of friends and contacts, we’re more likely to fail to
understand the importance of marketing than we are likely to fail to
deliver powerful user experiences. Other answer-ers here are thinking
along the same lines when they stress the importance of brand, voice,
and acquiring users: all of these qualities are the things that
marketing experts can really help with in a profound way.

To whatever extent that a UI designer can do this, that UI designer is performing a marketing function.

Christopher Fahey

Two things:

1. Not doing one. I find the biggest issue these days is that companies
continue to shy away from social networks as something someone else
does. The loss of top down marketing control and the perceived
liability of open-ended conversations still keeps many companies well

2. Not looking at what networks already are working and carving out
a space in them for yourself. I think a big mistake for a lot of
companies is the idea they have to start complex processes like this by
always building their own first. I think it would be better to start
with a thread or user group or sanctioned community employee team to
participate on other well-participated meta-forums first. If the desire
is strong enough to create a unique social network that is more
targeted to the select group, then the idea will have some momentum
from the target community itself to move along.

Tod Rathbone

Releasing control to your community. On the two social sites I’ve
worked on, both aimed at narrow audiences (one tech-oriented, the other
party-oriented — assuming those are separate audiences), the site
owners in both cases wanted to avoid “The MySpace Syndrome” wherein
nearly every page becomes a messy conflagration of plug-ins, run-on
sentences, endless scrolling and possible lawsuits. Facebook has been
somewhat successful in manhandling its audience into a single interface
they can’t easily manipulate. But growth seems to depend on freedom of
expression, and when you have thousands or millions of users, control
goes out the window. Finding the balance between “My Vision” as a
client and “Your Vision” as a user is painful, but unavoidable.

Lance Arthur

There are many MANY more terrific answers, and since the poll is open for another six days, I recommend you read them and add your 2cents. After  it closes, I’ll do a write up of what I’ve learned, and create some follow up questions to answer some of these challenges.

Tamara Adlin, Author of The
Persona Lifecycle : Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design 

wasn’t able to make the LinkedIn link work, so I tacked it on here

I think the biggest
challenge is having a really good reason to build one in the first
place. back when streaming media was new, everyone and their brother
was saying ‘we need streaming media on our site!’ More recently it’s
been “Ajax! Web 2.0! We need some of that!” No you flippin’ don’t.
That’s like saying ‘we need more concrete to make this new building
excellent!’ Social networking applications are becoming part of the
infrastructure of the web and technology. They are a commodity, a tool.
And they are being applied indiscriminately, which is making them
worthless. Unless there is a really good reason for supporting some
kind of ‘community,’ then social networks and community applications
just increase noise and diminish the interestingness and goodness of
‘real’ social networks. So the biggest challenge? Doing the really good
thinking up front, before you decide you need one, to figure out who
you are trying to help, why, what they need, the experience you want to
support, and the best ways to support this experience. Designing social
media or networks should only be undertaken AFTER you’ve done all that
hard work. and I think it’s the biggest challenge because i think so
few people are doing it.