ARCHIVE: July, 2007

Upcoming Speaking Events

I’m speaking about social design at a few events in the coming months. Hope to see you there!

User Experience Week 2007
August 13-16, 2007 – Washington DC

Under the guidance of experienced practitioners from Adaptive Path and other top companies, this four-day conference introduces user experience practitioners to new rich internet application design approaches, practical prototyping techniques, effective cross-organization communications strategies and more.

Use the promotion code UXJP to save 15% on the registration rate.

User Interface Conference 2007
November 5-8, 2007 – Cambridge, MA

Get ready to learn side-by-side with world-renowned experts at User Interface 12. Nowhere else will you have the chance to spend full days learning from top design and usability authorities. UIE’s Jared M. Spool and his team of usability researchers created User Interface 12 for designers, information architects, and usability professionals who need to tackle their biggest design challenges.

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Putting the Lesson into Practice, Part I: The Cold-Start Problem

One of the emerging principles of social design is what I call The Lesson, which can be summarized as “personal value precedes network value”. Since I wrote about the Lesson last year, it has become one of my most read and cited posts.

Other evidence would suggest that there’s something to it as well, that it is indeed a strong principle that helps us build better social software. Several of the social design folks that I regularly read, including Thomas Vander Wal and Rashmi Sinha, have observed similar phenomena. In a talk she gave about social design at Wordcamp, Rashmi’s first principle was “Make the system personally useful”. You can see her slides here.

Now, it’s one thing to talk about the importance of personal value and how that personal value precedes network value, but just what does the Lesson mean in practice? That’s what this series of posts is about…

Continue Reading: Putting the Lesson into Practice, Part I: The Cold-Start Problem

Seth Godin’s Job #1: Community Management

It’s not everyday that Seth Godin writes something that has anything to do with social web apps, so his post today got me really excited. In Jobs of the future, #1: Online Community Organizer he writes:

“What if you want to hire someone to build an online community? Somebody to create and maintain a virtual world in which all the players in an industry feel like they need to be part of it? Like being the head of a big trade association, but without the bureaucracy and tedium…

It would help if that person understood technology, at least well enough to know what it could do. They would need to be able to write. But they also have to be able to seduce stragglers into joining the group in the first place, so they have to be able to understand a marketplace, do outbound selling and non-electronic communications. They have to be able to balance huge amounts of inbound correspondence without making people feel left out, and they have to be able to walk the fine line between rejecting trolls and alienating the good guys.

Continue Reading: Seth Godin’s Job #1: Community Management

Welcome to the Stream

You’ve probably heard the term “stream” in relation to attention, as in “attention stream”.

The usage of the word is spreading, however, and is now finding its way into web application vernacular. It is called a “lifestream”, “socialstream”, “friendstream”, “contentstream”, among others.

It has come to mean a list of the always-updated items in a system. Here are a few examples:

  • Twitter
    The stream in Twitter is the list of latest sms messages from your friends
  • Facebook News Feed
    This stream has lots of different types of items, made up of activities like adding friends, joining groups, and adding applications
  • RSS readers
    Your RSS reader displays a stream of the latest posts from the blogs you subscribe to
  • Links
    Your list of links submitted to is a linkstream
  • Digg Spy
    The latest items added or dugg in digg

It should be apparent that almost any items updated in real-time can constitute a stream. And therefore a stream can be used in almost any application that people use. The question is: is it useful to see a list of what you’ve done or what you’re friends are doing? In many cases, it is at least interesting, if not useful.

Continue Reading: Welcome to the Stream

What Do People Talk About?

Guy Kawasaki wrote a nice post The Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing, about an interesting book called Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing. The book outlines 9 major themes of the topics that people talk about, write about, and care about.

  1. Aspirations and beliefs (what we are and what we could be)
  2. David vs. Goliath (fighting the powerful, common enemy)
  3. Avalanche about to roll (excitement about being up with the latest trends)
  4. Contrarian/counterintuitive/challenging assumptions (truth to power)
  5. Anxieties (our rational…and irrational…fears)
  6. Personalities and personal stories (interesting or inspirational people to emulate)
  7. How-to stories and advice (practical advice)
  8. Glitz and glam (promising to be like those who seem to have it all)
  9. Seasonal/event-related (contextually based on what’s happening now)

Continue Reading: What Do People Talk About?

Seizing the Opportunity: Bokardo is becoming a design company

Over the past several months I’ve been receiving many requests for designing social web applications. After all, designing social web applications is the topic of this blog, so it makes sense that folks would assume I do design work. Since I’ve had a full-time job, however, I haven’t been able to offer services…I’ve only been able to write about my observations and ideas with you all.

It was frustrating, however, because social web apps are the future of software and I felt sort of on the sidelines from a design standpoint. At UIE we work on some great projects, such as a recent social web app where we’re doing some cool research on how people are using it, but I still heard the call of those Bokardoans who would ping me and say “Hey, we’re working on this cool thing…” The responsibilities of my current job (which is a great job, btw) forced me to say “Sorry, I can’t help” over and over again.

But that’s about to change. I’ve decided to start a company: Bokardo Design. I’m going to offer the exact services that I write about here at Bokardo: Interface design and strategy for social web applications. For those of you who have read Bokardo for a long time, nothing that I offer will be a surprise. I’m simply putting into practice what I’ve been preaching…so to speak.

Bokardo Design

Continue Reading: Seizing the Opportunity: Bokardo is becoming a design company

Why is the Netflix Site Good? is one of my favorite sites, both for the valuable service they provide but also because they do really great web application work. From the Netflix Community Blog:

Question: “If we KNOW something is a feature you want, or a feature we want, why isn’t it on the site already — or why is it taking so long to release?”

Continue Reading: Why is the Netflix Site Good?

Dean Kamen on Design Responsibility

Every once in a while we get a glimpse of how amazing people view the world in such a way that we can’t help but see the world with new eyes ourselves…

“There is a disproportionate capability among people on this planet to solve problems. We certainly can’t expect most of the people who don’t have the resources to be the ones who supply the solutions. That makes you a very small minority. I heard different definitions of “minority,” but educated people who understand the laws of nature, the rules of engineering, or the laws of man and economics and finance and politics and democracy are an incredibly small minority on this planet, and they have a huge advantage in the leverage and the control they have over the world’s physical and political environment. You don’t have to be an historian to know most of the time that leverage is used to help the rich get richer. You are able to think about how your education is going to enrich you.

You also ought to remember that if you are going to solve all problems that we’re facing in this world, it’s unlikely that the people and ideas that got us to where we are, are either the people or ideas that are going to get us to a different place. It’s going to require new people with new ideas [applause]. And that would be you.”

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Taxonomies and Tags

In case you missed this little nugget from Thomas Vander Wal, I thought I would point your attention to it now.

Folksonomy Provides 70 Percent More Terms Than Taxonomy

The result comes from the Steve Museum, an amazing project in which people apply tags to…art. The early results from their research suggest that the words people use differ quite a bit from what the terms a museum uses.

As Thomas suggests, lots of folks are going to use tags to supplement taxonomy…but I’m wondering if that’s not a fool’s errand. More specifically, I think a taxonomy might be too rigid a tool in many cases, where a flexible navigation system, fed by the terms exposed in a folksonomy, might be a more reasonable road. Call it a taxonomy if you want…but what I’m thinking of isn’t nearly as static as most taxonomies.

Continue Reading: Taxonomies and Tags

Common Pitfalls of Building Social Web Applications and How to Avoid Them, Part 3

This is part III of a series on Common Pitfalls of Building Social Web Applications. Read Part I and Part II

8) Not Enabling Recommendations

Thoughtful recommendations are the best possible way to increase your user base. It is word-of-mouth in action. When someone takes time out of their day to say something really nice about your service, making an honest-to-goodness recommendation, you will definitely see positive results. The question is, are you making it easy for your users to recommend you?

In our world lots of people make recommendations, but many of them are paid to do so or are looking after their own interests. Take, for example, the Publisher’s book descriptions on These are always super-positive…they explain why the book is so great and why you should buy it. They would never contain anything negative, never contain anything that might potentially hurt the sales of the book.

And, as a result, the book description tells us exactly what we would expect from a publisher. To Amazon’s credit, they have over time given individual reviews and ratings more prominence on the product page, signaling that that content is more valuable to users. And of course it should be…those people aren’t biased in the way the publishing house is.

Netflix Tell a FriendMany sites add incentives for recommendations so that people give them more freely. Netflix, for example, allows you to give “free movies” to friends while you tell them about the service. This is a good approach. Netflix does not reward you for this…the act of giving is all that you get. If Netflix did give you a free movie that would introduce too much bias…and while more people might make recommendations it would quickly turn into a case similar to the publishers…as people would realize that there is something in it for the recommender.

Continue Reading: Common Pitfalls of Building Social Web Applications and How to Avoid Them, Part 3

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