Birth of a New Specialty: Social Networking Design

Jared Spool

September 27th, 2006

Around the office, we’ve been talking about the increasing amount of social networking functionality that is permeating into the products and services we’re dealing with. Tagging, for example, allows people who use a resource to help define a living category structure for the content. But it also gives insight into what the other people are thinking. By looking at how other people tag certain items, you get new information about that item. The bookmarking service, is a great example of that.

In another aspect of social networking applications, Netflix has the capability to invite “friends” into your experience. When your friend accepts you invitation, you can see how they recommend a movie you might be interested in. This now gives users two perspectives on a film: what the general Netflix user base thinks about a given film and what your specific friends think about it. Like using tagging, looking at the differences in the recommendations tells you something about the film you didn’t know before.

While rarely talked about, the grand-daddies of social networking functionality is, of course, Amazon and eBay. Amazon, with it’s “Customers who bought this book also bought…” functionality changed the way we shop. eBay, with it’s reputation system that allows both buyers and sellers to decide if a transaction is worth the risk, changed the way we interact with what is otherwise complete strangers.

My colleague, Josh Porter, had an interesting take on all this over at his Bokardo blog:

In general, computers and software are taking an increasingly social role for us. Our behavior hasn’t become all that much more social (although it certainly has for some) but we’re learning how to effectively model our social needs in software. Three years ago the social aspects of software was email and chat messaging. Now, it’s forging online identity as profiles and embedded messaging within applications. It’s become always-on, which means that there is no distinction between “offline” and “online” anymore. We are not just modeling messaging, we’re modeling presence as well. This is a big shift…and our language reflects it. I’m “on MySpace” means that we are figuratively and literally on the site.

I quoted Wil Wright recently, and I think he’s (pardon the pun) right on. First thought of as super calculators, computers are now part of the social fabric of our lives. They are becoming integral to how we communicate with our family, friends, and colleagues. They’re still doing calculations of course, but the software that we’ve designed for them is all about human-to-human contact. Social contact. And since we’re social animals in the end, the trend of modeling this in software won’t be reversing any time soon.

I agree. It’s not going away soon. And more importantly, there will be increasing demand for designers who have experience with this. The recent Facebook controversy shows us what happens when we design social networking functionality poorly. And how we design, introduce, and maintain social network systems is unlike any of the other design problems we currently regularly face.

I think a new specialty in design will soon emerge to deal with social networking functionality. Specialists in this discipline will learn from others, develop a working body of knowledge, and apply their knowledge and experience to new problems in different contexts. I’m betting, within five years, we’ll see a conference where more than 200 such specialists gather to share and compare their experiences in this new field.

15 Responses to “Birth of a New Specialty: Social Networking Design”

  1. John Monberg Says:

    I began programming when screens were limited to 32 80 character monochrome rows. But this limitation was trivial compared with a more important limitation–only workers with strictly defined roles could access these screens. As screens become an almost ubiquitous presence in peoples’ lives, their social roles become much more complex. I left the world of programming over a decade ago to earn a Ph.D. in the social study of information technology. I look forward to a field where I can bring these experiences together, accomplish something important, and make a difference in peoples’ lives.

  2. Alexander Mouldovan Says:

    Sometimes I wonder if social media/computing is really the next big wave to reshape social, professional, health, entertainment, and all other aspects of our lives. I think we’re only seeing the beginning of vast change. Hang on!

  3. Link bucket: Design stuff for a change : Small Initiatives - Sensible Internet Design Says:

    […] Jared Spool believes we’re seeing a new design specialty emerge: social networking design. I agree, not so much to create new branded social networks, but to integrate social tools and methods with many other types and components of sites. […]

  4. Putting people first Says:

    Birth of a new specialty: social networking design

    Reflecting on the increasing amount of social networking functionality that is permeating into the products and services we’re dealing with, Jared Spool thinks a new specialty in design will soon emerge to deal with social networking functionality…

  5. digital aesthetics» Blog Archive » Birth of a new specialty: social networking design Says:

    […] Read full post […]

  6. links for 2006-10-08 (Leapfroglog) Says:

    […] UIE Brain Sparks » Blog Archive » Birth of a New Specialty: Social Networking Design Spool expects to see more and more designers specializing in social networking design. I’d broaden it to design of social software. He quotes some stuff from Bokardo, which I don’t agree with, as usual. There sure as hell is a distinction between on and o (tags: socialsoftware socialnetworks design specialization) […]

  7. Rachel Goldstein Says:

    Great post. There seems to be an especially big need for logo designers for web 2.0 sites. Since we are on the subject of design and social networking sites … I just wrote an article that lists Social Networking Community Sites for Graphic Designers and Web Designers … I thought that your users might find it helpful. I also just launched A Digg Like Site for Designers Called Design Sites Up


  8. Il mio social network « Moto browniano. La verità, vi prego, sul Web 2.0 Says:

    […] negli States ed in Australia sono già presenti specialisti – online community strategist, social networking designer, community manager – in grado di seguire tutte le fasi della progettazione e della successiva […]

  9. Social Network Design Says:

    Social communities are shaping “we are shaping” the wave of the future.
    Sandy Rowley

  10. social network design Says:

    social media design is becoming a new nitche for sure.

  11. jillcatrina Says:

    A social network caught in the Web by Lada A. Adamic, Orkut Buyukkokten, and Eytan Adar
    they present an analysis of Club Nexus, an online community at Stanford University. Through the Nexus site they were able to study a reflection of the real world community structure within the student body. they observed and measured social network phenomena such as the small world effect, clustering, and the strength of weak ties. Using the rich profile data provided by the users they were able to deduce the attributes contributing to the formation of friendships, and to determine how the similarity of users decays as the distance between them in the network increases.

    Social Bookmarking

  12. social networking web design Says:

    something amazing that i read is that pornography is no longer the most view content on the web social networking sites are.

  13. social networking web designer Says:

    It seems like in the near future every web site will have social capabilities.

  14. Andy Mayer Says:

    It’s now 2009, and our business specialises in social network design – so I guess Jared was spot on with his prediction!

  15. Social Network Web Design Says:

    Does anybody have the figures referenced in comment #12 about pornography vs social networking sites?

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