September 21st, 2006
One of the outcomes of the rediculously-fast rise of social networking web sites is that it’s got us asking a lot of questions. Not a day goes by here at UIE where we aren’t discussing MySpace, Facebook, or Xanga with each other or with clients. These sites are truly mysterious, in part because they’re not really made for our demographic but also because we’re not sure why people actually use them in the myriad of ways they do. As a result, we’re learning a tremendous amount of new things about social web design.
That’s one of the differentiators of social web design. It deals with the social lives of the people participating, not just the everyday tasks that anybody can relate to. When we’re studying banking applications, for example, it’s easy to talk about a user transferring money from one account to another because anybody who banks has probably done that at least once or twice. But when we start talking about social issues, like say a couple doing their yearly finances together using a web application, then the context changes completely into something that we might not understand at all. This is because the social lives of this couple, their relationship, is completely unique to them. We don’t understand how they interact, make decisions together, and deal with the aftermath. Designing a system that will delight not just one of them performing a task but both of them performing an activity at the same time is another hurdle altogether.
As a result of this, we’re seeing renewed interest in user research. More and more folks are telling us that they’re dedicating resources to finding out how people use their web applications in the context of their lives, not just in the context of their tasks. This is a great thing! Maybe the social networking sites are useful to us afterall.
We’re just beginning to get started down the road of social web design. The social networking sites are just a beginning, a great starter in a conversation that will be going on for quite some time.Tweet