Models for defining a social network user experiences

As we’re making OpenSky more social I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at social networks and recently realized that social interactions on social networking sites can be reduced to verb-noun-verb definitions that:

  • Outline a share-object-consume chain
  • Have simple, well-defined verbs

Here are some examples of those definitions:

Tweet links to click
Share photos to comment on
Post resumes to recruit
Post art to fave
Announce meetups to attend
Review restaurants to visit

Facebook sort of breaks the definition with their shared focus on both loves and comments, but their feedback loop focuses on notifying sharers (and other commenters) of comments, so I think it’s the more central user experience.

The best share-object-consume chains are designed so the consumption gives the sharer direct positive feedback. In cases like Yelp where attending a restaurant doesn’t feed back to a reviewer, a scaffolding of alternative feedback becomes necessary. This is where Yelp beat Citysearch: their review tags and compliments are likely precursors to the reader visiting a restaurant. It’s a stretch to scaffold the feedback in this manner; Yelp nailed it with solid product design while Citysearch never seems to have recognized the problem.

Another goal for a successful network is making consumption easy, so positive feedback happens often, thereby encouraging additional subsequent shares. This is typically solved by going one step upstream from the consuming action to the indicator of intent: Meetup talks about members more than attendees (and Twitter focuses on followers more than clickers).

Abstracted in this way, social networks are marketplaces where sharers play the role of vendors and consumers are buyers. So social network design needs to solve many of the same user experience problems as marketplaces:

  • Is there a large population of interested consumers?
  • Is it easy for them to find good vendors (where “good” is a function of quality and relevance)?
  • Are consumables cheap to generate?
  • Is it easy to put consumables into the marketplace?
  • Is it easy to consume them?
  • Is it clear to what makes a consumable valuable?

All of this points to designing networks where there’s a clear way to share a specific object via a consistent, easy process, so that it can be consumed in a specific manner (and making sure that people want to consume that thing).