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Great UI needed for social software controls

by Jeffrey Mann  |  February 1, 2009  |  6 Comments

This New York Times article reflects an issue that has been lurking at the back of my mind ever since I started using social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Yammer, Linkedin and my infrequent private blog. While I’m not a really high volume poster, I like to share a fair amount of stuff on these sites. Unlike this blog, it tends to be a mixture of professional and personal observations and postings. I have not made any real blunders when mixing the two, but stories abound of when this does happen. 

Vendors are responding by improving the controls they offer for deciding how much to expose, to whom. This is a great first step, but the real breakthrough must come in the user interface. As this article points out, there are quite a few possibilities, but how many people really take the time and effort to carefully go through and consider who should see what? 

It is not uncommon to receive ten or more invitations per day. I quickly sift through the people who read my name somewhere, but don’t really know me. But many are more subtle. How much do I want an analyst relations person from a vendor I am covering to know about me? Or a client? Or my boss? I sometimes use to propagate postings across many different sites. It is much easier and faster than going to each individual site. But I have to force myself to think whether what I am saying really belongs in all of those places.

The problem is that I really am acting in several different personas all the time. In my head, I slip between being a sometimes snarky commentator, professional analyst,  new acquaintance, old friend, fan, brother, husband… Translating the different roles I play from second to second from my head to my keyboard is a far too manual process, and manual processes are very error-prone.

The great designer/entrepreneur who comes up with an effective way to manage the different personas people inhabit stands to make a fortune. It was the suppliers to miners who made the lasting riches in the California Gold Rush. The same thing is poised to happen again with the social media gold rush. Many of the first order sites will do fine. But the second and third order services that make it possible to use the sites effectively and safely will be an even bigger opportunity.

Category: blogging  consumerization  social-software  twitter-vendors  

Tags: new-york-times  personas  security  social-software  ui  

Jeffrey Mann
Research VP
20 years with Gartner and META Group
30 years IT industry

Jeffrey Mann is a Research VP at Gartner, covering cloud office, collaboration and social software.

Thoughts on Great UI needed for social software controls

  1. Although UI is not everything, but it does attracts the users to using the software.

    A good example is Friendster and Facebook. Facebook AJAX interface is so much better and user friendlier compared to Friendster. It made me stop using Friendster and moved to Facebook

  2. Ben Pitman says:

    I agree, a great UI would enhance and expand the possibilities for business and social users on social networking sites. Now if only I had the skill sets to be that great designer.

    Great post and nice pic to.

  3. Dave Armon says:

    Having spent a good deal of my career counseling corporate execs on compliance with Securities & Exchange Commission disclosure rules, I agree there’s danger being Thomas Tightlipped with one audience and Barry Blabber with another.

    All it takes is the inadvertent release of something material to a limited audience (i.e., employees) to get into hot water.

    Until someone invents your Persona-matic machine, it’s best to fight off the desire to say different things to different audiences and just be as open and transparent as you can with everyone.

    My new advice to microbloggers: “Releasing earnings on Yammer leads to the slammer.”

  4. Jeff Mann says:

    Thanks for all your comments, although I can’t take credit for the graphic. It illustrated the NYT article.
    What I am looking for goes beyond cosmetic UI issues, of course. This needs deep UI, with ease of use hiding hard background functionality.
    In the meantime, Be Careful Out There is good advice. A good place to start is emphasizing common sense. Don’t post what you wouldn’t say at a neighbourhood party. Don’t post what your boss, competitor or mother shouldn’t see.

  5. As much as I’m attracted to the idea of a UI that parses my personas to different social sites, it’s also the inherent nature of the technology we use that compounds your social schizophrenia. As illustrated in the case of the “gentleman” from Sydney, a quick print-screen captures the image and posting from one site for other purposes. In the interests of privacy to a community that supports one particular persona, such sites would have to have the power to disable such functionality as a condition of participation. Certainly, one could “doctor up” such pictures (and, it’s getting easier to do so), but my example does make the point that there’s more out here that just a social UI, it may have to drive down to the OS UI itself to support such interactions.

    Indeed, behind the scenes, an enforceable legally binding agreement concerning the posting and linking of information tied to various persona would have to exist between the providers themselves. Who would want an agreement with one site that they’ll preserve your interaction with them only to discover that a link to that site (and some of your information) has been provided on another site that is not as friendly to your privacy needs. How? Perhaps by a saboteur that shares the first site with you or, perhaps because limited information is shared by the first site to entice others to join their network (e.g., public bits of a private profile). Such legal enforceablity would require treaties between nations. I’m not holding my breath for that result.

    Dave’s admonition on Yammer and the old adage concerning lips and ships holds true today. Anonymity is the antithesis of social networking sites. Sites that provide and encourage alternative persona behavior support anonymity but do not provide the benefits that social sites provide.

    Personally, this requires me to particular about who is in my network and judge my level of comfortability with that person to professionally share public information. Reducing persona juggling activities forces me to be more transparent and selective.

    My Father served 33 years in the US Marine Corps. He noted that he was never “off work”, only on “leave from duty”. He was, and is, always a Marine. As an aside, if “Old Marines never die, they just go to hell and regroup”, would an adage “Old Analysts never die, they just serve new clients in a different venue” be appropriate?

    In cyberspace, you’re always at work.

  6. Whit Andrews says:

    There was a time when this kind of parceling was assumed to be inevitable, although in a slightly different context. I remember Firefly headed in that direction, as did Microsoft after buying those guys out. It is a fascinating issue, but the trust level I would have to have for the vendor would be fairly intense.

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