Archive for the ‘Social Networks’ Category

Making social software work for real people

February 10, 2006

I spent a fun day working at Leslie’s house in the countryside yesterday. It was a gorgeous crisp winter’s day, and we spent the day debating and developing ideas for a particularly knotty client problem, while eating delicious sausage sandwiches and being hassled for grapes by his chickens.

What is probably more interesting is that about an hour of the day’s discussion focussed on social software. More specifically, me trying to explain social software to my colleagues, some of whom are self-confessed luddites. Rather than talk about the technology or some clever principles, I instead decided to just demonstrate three well-known applications: Flickr,, and

They didn’t get Flickr at all; it just raised privacy concerns. “Why would you want to share your holiday photos with strangers?” They understood, but couldn’t see the benefit in their lives as they “don’t bookmark many websites anyway”. however really clicked for them, because they could immediately see the benefit – “a tool to find new music that I’ll probably like”. “Like Amazon, but better.”

This got me thinking a bit about where all this Web 2.0 stuff is going, and how we are going to make it work for real people?

The trick for me is to remember that nobody outside of the protocracy is, or ever will be, interested in this stuff. Also, we must realise that there is a generational gap in understanding of how your social network can be leveraged.

In the research I’ve been doing recently in the UK, younger people are impatient for this stuff. They are already doing some of the things that social software enables, through clumsy improvised methods, mostly using text. Remember though that because they want it doesn’t mean they find it clever or sexy. “It’s just how things should work isn’t it?”

Older people though (generally over 28?) see anything social in very friendsreunited terms, and worry about their ability to maintain even more relationships. “I’ve got enough friends.” They have trouble with the concept that (apart from networking tools like LinkedIn), most social software is about the infocloud generated by the relationships, not the relationships themselves.

So how can we shape this stuff to make it acceptable for the mass market? My first thoughts are:

  • Make the social network an enabler, not the thing.
  • Barriers to participation (rating/tagging) must be very low or non-existent.
  • Make it very clear to the user how they are insulted from the weirdoes.


I’m not sure that big fonts have a bearing either way.


Distinctive and/or curious behaviours of Skype usage by Skypers

February 9, 2006

I’ve been working with Skype for four weeks now, and before they become normal for me, I wanted to record some of the distinctive and/or curious behaviours of Skype usage I’m noticing. (I’m sure most of these are obvious, but despite being a fairly tech savvy person, I’ve never really used IM before, never mind VOIP.)

  • There’s a quite lovely etiquette of asking someone by chat if it’s OK to call, even when their presence shows ‘available’, and then thanking them afterward (again by chat) for a good call.
  • Multichats are great. Bring many contacts in on a chat with a general topic, and keep it going indefinitely. They lay dormant for a few hours/days, then someone will post a link/ask a question, and there’s a little flurry. For a team at work, it means problems are solved or ideas hatched right there and then. The team doesn’t have to convene a meeting for an issue that doesn’t need one, or wait until the next-scheduled meeting to discuss it, by which time the opportunity will have gone/gone stale/been forgotten anyway. I’d like to try to open one with my friends. I just need to persuade them to get Skype first.
  • The noise, echos etc you get on a voice call have a uniquely Skype (or soft VOIP?) quality to them. Although on Tuesday I was in a meeting where four people were taking part via Skype and a conference phone, and to me it felt like they were orbiting the moon on Apollo 13! They didn’t say anything all meeting, but there was the occasional whisper of analogue-sounding static that reminded me of a sound effect used extensively in the passable Tom Hanks film. Weird.
  • In face-to-face meetings, nearly all the Skypers have a laptop in front of them, sometimes taking part in unrelated chats simultaneously, sometimes writing notes into Notepad or PowerPoint.
  • I think it may be that power in the organisation is signalled by not having a laptop in a meeting.
  • I think there may be a macho thing about making the last contribution of the day to an ongoing multichat. I’ve only seen men do it so far…


I look forward to reading back over these observation in 1 week/month/year to see which are part of the landscape, and which disappear and seem quaint.