ARCHIVE: December, 2007

Facebook, Lifelets, and Designer Responsibility

If you’re a regular reader of Bokardo then you know I think issues like the Facebook Beacon incident, the Facebook News Feed incident, and the Digg gaming incident(s) are big deals. (I’ve written about all three here on Bokardo)

The reason why I think they’re big deals is because they’re canaries in a coal mine of privacy, so to speak. What Facebook and Digg are doing (or trying to do) is exactly what everyone else will be trying to do (or having to deal with) in the near future. Why are Facebook and Digg able to do it now? Two reasons: they have flexible platforms which allow them to make changes relatively quickly and have big, savvy audiences who grew up with tech. Other social apps aren’t dealing with the same issues yet because they’re simply not innovating as fast as these two. But they will have to deal with them, and soon.

I was chatting with another designer the other day and we were surprised at how little we hear other designers talking about these issues. Why not?

It’s an interesting question.

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North Shore Web Geek Meetup: Jan 3 in Newburyport, MA

A quick notice for any web-minded folks in the Newburyport, MA, USA vicinity in early 2008.

My buddy Jeff Watkins (Jeff is an ajax developer at Apple) and I are planning a web geek meetup Jan. 3 in Newburyport, MA. We know quite a few web geeks in and around town, and the North Shore is teeming with them (you). Every week or so I get wind of someone else who I know of online who happens to live in the area. Unfortunately, North Shorers can be up to an hour+ outside of Boston, so it’s not always easy to get to meetups there. In addition, those folks in Portsmouth are even further…we’ll have done well if we get some Portsmouth folks involved.

So come and meet some other like-minded souls to predict what Apple/Facebook/Google is up to next (isn’t that what web geeks do?) over a pint of beer. And, by the way, Jeff is an loyal employee of Apple…I can’t get even the slightest hint of details out of him.


Date: Thursday, January 3, 2008
Place: Rosie O’Sheas Irish Pub (see map)
Start: ~6-7pm
Ends: ~10-11pm

Travel tips:

  • By Car: Downtown Newburyport is ~3 miles off of Interstate 95, so it’s very easy to find and fast to get into/out of by car. (this ain’t the city)
  • Commuter Rail: Newburyport is at the end of the commuter rail…if we have any folks coming on the 5:36 or the 6:15 we’ll do a pick up (the train station is about a mile away from the pub) (commuter rail schedule)

Continue Reading: North Shore Web Geek Meetup: Jan 3 in Newburyport, MA

Digg’s Design Dilemma Redux

Digg continues to improve their interface to counteract gaming. How they have evolved the site over the last year provides good design insight for anybody working on social web apps.


Back in Sep 2006, the social news site Digg was coming under massive scrutiny because of claims of gaming the system by a group of 30 or so Top Diggers. In my post Digg’s Design Dilemma I argued that the members of Digg were not to blame…the design of the site was.

Now when I say “blame” I don’t mean they deserved punishment. I mean that the design was enabling the behavior, in some cases it was even promoting it. The diggers were simply doing what their environment allowed them to do.

Since then, Digg has made some subtle interface tweaks that help to curtail gaming activity. These changes were made over time. (I’m only just now writing them up) They highlight some of the challenges of having a growing user base with active participants.

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Facebook a wealth of data for researchers

An interesting article in the New York Times: On Facebook, Scholars Link Up With Data. It describes several research projects being done on the social network site.

Here are some interesting findings:

“Researchers learned that while people perceive someone who has a high number of friends as popular, attractive and self-confident, people who accumulate “too many” friends (about 800 or more) are seen as insecure.”

This is fascinating. People put real social weight on the number of Facebook friends you have, almost as if Facebook friends are a actual signifier of something. So even though we know that in many cases these aren’t “real” friends, we still perceive those people with more as somehow more popular, attractive, etc. This, to me, is just another signifier at how important social network sites have become. We are using them to gauge social capital.

‘students who reported low satisfaction with life and low self-esteem, and who used Facebook intensively, accumulated a form of social capital linked to what sociologists call “weak ties.” A weak tie is a fellow classmate or someone you meet at a party, not a friend or family member. Weak ties are significant, scholars say, because they are likely to provide people with new perspectives and opportunities that they might not get from close friends and family.’

Weak ties is an interesting theory because it explains why acquaintances (not necessarily friends) are so valuable to know. They give us opportunities that lie just outside our normal daily routine. Since we talk to friends often, we know most things they know, and so after a time our combined knowledge becomes similar. But acquaintances are always introducing us to new things, as they live in quite different worlds than we do. If Facebook is really good at making weak ties, then its worth might be more than simply cultivating the friendships we already have.

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Comic: Facebook Movie Quiz

Movie Quiz

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Amazon Wish List Sharing gets it Wrong

Before anybody claims that I am an Amazon fanboy (as I reference Amazon *a lot* in my talks), let me just say that in addition to some really great design they also have areas to improve on. Here’s a particularly baffling one: wish list sharing.

Sharing is crucial in social design. It allows people to share your application/service/web site with others in a way that you as the designer can’t. What other people say about you is an order of magnitude more powerful than what you can say about you.

If you don’t have smooth, easy process for sharing you are hampering the growth of your app. Sure, people will share to some extent on their own, but why force them to? When someone sends a personal, relevant message sharing something, the recipient will take notice. Make that as easy as possible.

Here is the sharing form for Amazon’s wish lists. It’s a typical sharing form: a bit of explanatory text, an email field, and a message.

sharing on amazon

But for some reason, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why, Amazon doesn’t let you edit the message. And they really should, as the message suffers from several problems…

Continue Reading: Amazon Wish List Sharing gets it Wrong

Yahoo Movies and the Law of Web Page Sprawl

Got a fantastic, unsolicited email from my father-in-law, who while getting frustrated with Yahoo Movies coined a new law: the Law of web page sprawl.

Yahoo Movies

Dear Josh,

If you go to and click on movies (left side of screen) you come to the above web-page.

The annoying thing is it took 19 seconds for this page to completely appear. Nothing wrong with my computer. Just with the page – there is tooooooo much there.

Anyway, I just thought I would send this to you as you mentioned how a cluttered web-page seems to grow even more cluttered by virtue of the ‘LAW OF WEB-PAGE SPRAWL’. And Yahoo is a perfect example of this ‘effect’. For instance, they totally screwed up their TV-listings page also.

The YAHOO! TV page used to load quickly and you could find out program information quickly and easily. So they changed it. Now it is so ungainly and slow, I have stopped using it.

‘Media-brainiacs’ at the biggest companies dictate content based on advertising over convenience….in other words….the heck with the user.

After all, he’ll say, “LIVE WITH IT”. I shouldn’t be too surprised. Media, radio and TV for example, is always trying ways to squeeze in ever more advertising.

How much do they think people will put up with???? I think that this is the question I have begun to ask myself. The media keeps pushing the limits of advertising and programming (expanding the former and squeezing the latter) …. is there any limit?

The web is now ‘THE MEDIA’ and as such (at Yahoo at least) they’ve been exploring this question – i.e. “WHAT IS THE LIMIT TO THE USERS AD TOLERANCE AND MAXIMIZING ADVERTISING REVENUES?”

I know that they are doing this. So sometimes just being aware of it is annoying in itself. At other times I just sigh and say, “LIVE WITH IT”.

I have to hand it to them. In recent years the ad-man and ad-woman has me convinced that he is informing me – at the same time he is pitching his product. If I am not mistaken, the snake oil salesman used a similar tactic.


Again, this was unsolicited. How long did he spend writing this? How many times does his frustration have to hit the boiling point before he writes this? My guess is that he’s been frustrated for a while.

Now, this is why social media (and the design of it) is so important…

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Weekend Update: Reading list, referral logs, and an interview

Lots happening! Updates to the reading list, loads of conversation in my referral logs, and an interview on WebWorkerDaily.

I’ve had some great comments on my Social Design Reading List. Thank you everyone for your suggestions, corrections, and pointers to interesting things! I’ve been updating the list as fast as I can. Just this morning I added about a dozen books….including two on my must read list.

Helen Walker has an interesting new way to collect design ideas: Web Design in Quotes. I’m flattered to be included alongside some of the real web design maestros out there. Cool!

An interesting discussion on the Rise and Fall of Friendster on the IXDA discussion list. A bit further down in the comments they discuss personal value vs. social value. Prof. Mauro Pinheiro correctly argues that there are sites that rely on the presence of more than one person to provide value. Yes, there are exceptions: social network software and groupware are two exceptions to asking the question “Is your application useful even if nobody else uses it?”. (I’ve since amended my talks to point out those exceptions)

Matthew Hodgdon writes that Information Architects should start adding social design to their toolset…for those of you familiar with my rather controversial stance on IA all I can say is…gulp…

Continue Reading: Weekend Update: Reading list, referral logs, and an interview

The future of your social software is already here

“The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.”.

This quote by William Gibson (often reprised by Tim O’Reilly) is bantered about in tech circles whenever people get the feeling they’re glimpsing the future. It was particularly appropriate for the iPhone launch last June, when countless people pointed out that the touch-screen has been around for a long time.

The quote also pertains to web application design and the research teams need to do in order to make great software.

In a talk I gave the other day on social design, I went on at length about how you need to design for personal value before social value. (I’ve long called this the Lesson). I illustrated how most successful social web applications provide personal value at their most basic, using social value to augment it and make it better. So YouTube is a great video storage application first…and it also has great sharing features if you choose to do that.

(As a counter-example consider Technorati Tags, which provide social value but don’t provide personal value. One word: SPAM)

A software designer from the audience asked the next logical question (a question I get a lot!)…

Continue Reading: The future of your social software is already here

Did the Long Tail Beget Social Design?

A conversation I had today rewired the idea of the Long Tail for me.

The Long Tail, or the death of the product shelf (where shelf space becomes irrelevant when content is digital) brought on tremendous change in the economics of distribution. Netflix rents most of its movies from the catalog of past movies, not from the current list of blockbusters. Same with Amazon and books, iTunes and music. Christopher Anderson goes into a lot more details in the book he wrote on the subject: The Long Tail.

When content is digital, a public good, it is freely distributable by electronic means. It is infinitely copyable at 100% fidelity. Moreover, as the Long Tail shows, libraries of content can be built cheaply which provide value for the long term. Once Google digitizes all the books in the world they won’t ever have to again.

In other words, all content is available at all times.

What does this lead to? The Paradox of Choice! There are simply too many things to choose from. Which of the thousands of movies on Netflix do I rent? Which of the books on Amazon do I read? Which of the songs on iTunes do I listen to?

In the past, we listened to either the creator or the distributor for help. Since choice was limited, they would steer us to something in their limited selection. You either went to one of the movies at the local theater, or you didn’t watch a movie. You either bought a book from the book store or checked one out of the library, or you didn’t read. If you were lucky enough to be near a creator (like a rock band) you either went to the pub to listen to them or you went without live music.

The creator and the distributor, however, had a problem. They were always and forever biased…

Continue Reading: Did the Long Tail Beget Social Design?