In his article on Core77, it’s nice to hear social software designer Gentry Underwood of IDEO talk about social software like Twitter and Facebook as being in their earliest stages of development (similar to the old Windows 3.1). I think there are definitely some shortcomings in these services that could make them more constructive for users. I feel more comfortable posting Twitter updates than I do on Facebook but why? Maybe Twitter feels a little more informal and the news doesn’t have to be all that groundbreaking or interesting. Or is it the actual interface that appeals to me, or the concept behind it? Facebook is a fascinating amalgam of practically every person I’ve known over the course of my life. It’s almost more of a time capsule than an everyday tool for interaction. I like shooting a message to this person or that whom I haven’t spoken with in years, but the collection of people is precious to me and I hesitate to bore them with my everyday tidbits. Of course, that’s my own choice and not necessarily a drawback of the Facebook interface. I spend most of the time I’m on Facebook growing my crops in Farmville anyways (ok guilty pleasure).
Underwood explains that as social software develops it needs to take psychology of human interaction into account. A tremendous amount of observation and research is necessary in order to determine the most informed and appropriate design. ‘There’s a reason most anthropologists spend months to years in the field producing an ethnography: this is complex, time-consuming stuff. Design projects tasked with creating social software should expect to spend the majority of their time in situ with whatever community or organization the tool is meant to serve.’ He provides this graphic below from Bill Moggridge in Designing Interactions. Moggridge focuses mainly on product design but this insightful hierarchy could apply to any field of design.
For businesses however, social software has recently become an absolute necessity. If you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter presence you are missing out on an entire category of customers, as well as their interaction and feedback. This is exciting because it’s the beginning of an entirely new era of transparency in business. Forty years ago, the CEO of a company sat in his gilded office and gave orders under the cloak of secrecy. The new way of doing business (for most progressive companies – not finance obviously) is to let the public know what you’re doing, and giving the company a voice and personality is crucial to stand out in the marketplace. In advertising as well there’s a great shift towards viral, irreverent marketing messages (i.e. ESPN, Etrade – can you tell my husband watches football). We are not taking ourselves so seriously anymore!
There’s a new site that I think is worth mentioning – Aardvark – I signed up and linked to Facebook and Twitter but haven’t thought of a question yet (or been asked). It’s an interface where you can post any question on any topic and it attempts to connect you with experts in that particular area to answer your question. I think it’s an interesting concept if it gets a lot of use. However, why can’t I see other people’s answers? I guess that’s why it’s more of a social networking tool because you can only see the questions and answers of people in your network? Since there aren’t many of those it makes the tool less useful/interesting for me.
Another interesting point related to the growing use of social software and other innovations is from Nussbaum on the Business Week blog. He laments that the US is lagging other countries in innovation from new technology to the highest levels of government, but he sees potential in the Generation Y ability to innovate. ‘Gen Y is a Learn-Share-Make generation that appears very comfortable with a Design Thinking-type of collaborative, iterative, generative paradigm necessary for innovation. Their use of social media platforms and a general comfort level with digital technology makes Gen Y a born-again innovation generation.’ I did not grow up in the age of social networking sites, but I know the kids that are and they are GLUED to vchat, IM, and whatever new tool crosses their path. Like I’ve said in the past, my natural tendency is to the phone or a slower method of communication but I just love the ease and simplicity of being constantly connected to such a wide network of people. Now I just need some more free time to use it!