Google’s Social Design Best Practices

Tucked away as part of the new Open Social initiative launched last week, Google engineers offered an interesting best practices document of social design dos and don’ts.

Social Design Best Practices

The list of best practices are as follows:

  1. Engage Quickly – (my interpretation: provide value within 30 seconds)
  2. Mimic Look and Feel – (make your widget look like the page it is in)
  3. Enable Self Expression – (let people personalize their widgets)
  4. Make it Dynamic – (keep showing new stuff)
  5. Expose Friend Activity – (show what friends are doing)
  6. Browse the Graph – (let people explore their friends and friends of friends)
  7. Drive Communication – (provide commenting features)
  8. Build Communities – (expose different axes of similarity)
  9. Solve Real World Tasks – (leverage people’s social connections to solve real problems)

This list is interesting for several reasons…

Tucked away as part of the new Open Social initiative launched last week, Google engineers offered an interesting best practices document of social design dos and don’ts.

Social Design Best Practices

The list of best practices are as follows:

  1. Engage Quickly – (my interpretation: provide value within 30 seconds)
  2. Mimic Look and Feel – (make your widget look like the page it is in)
  3. Enable Self Expression – (let people personalize their widgets)
  4. Make it Dynamic – (keep showing new stuff)
  5. Expose Friend Activity – (show what friends are doing)
  6. Browse the Graph – (let people explore their friends and friends of friends)
  7. Drive Communication – (provide commenting features)
  8. Build Communities – (expose different axes of similarity)
  9. Solve Real World Tasks – (leverage people’s social connections to solve real problems)

This list is interesting for several reasons.

One is that we’re clearly seeing a set of practices emerge across all social software that centers around getting people started quickly, allowing for self-expression, engaged in real-life tasks, yet also allowing for flexible discovery and play. On both this site and others concerned with social design, these are the major themes that arise again and again.

Another is how quickly the social networks have changed the way we look at software in just a couple years. The third item on the list “Enable Self-Expression”, for example, would never have existed before the rise of MySpace. Facebook probably had a lot to do with “Expose Friend Activity”, which is a not-so-subtle reference to the news feed feature on that site.

Finally, I’m struck by how only two or three of the best practices are necessarily part of “social networking” software. They could be used in any kind of social software, be it productivity software for groups or even e-commerce sites that help people find the right product. That, to me, is the essence of social design. It isn’t relegated to social networking, even though the rise of social networking is what helped to clarify and refine the ideas. It’s about building software that takes advantage of social connections to provide enhanced value.

Also, note that these best practices are concerned with this particular technology. The Open Social initiative is a set of programming APIs that allows anybody to embed widgets (gadgets) within web pages (called containers). The embedded widgets can access outside services like MySpace, Orkut, and other social networks. As an simple example, I might embed a widget in my blog that shows my MySpace friends and whether or not they’re online at the moment.

Interesting bits aside, I think that the Google folks did a good job of summarizing some major issues in social design.

Published: November 5th, 2007

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