Posts Tagged ‘user experience

A few weeks ago I saw Wael Ghonim at LSE speak about his new book Revolution 2.0. I found the talk most enjoyable – his authenticity and passion were a pleasure to listen to. The discussion afterwards was mainly on the political situation in Egypt – understandably given the session was run by the LSE’s Middle East centre (not the Media and Communications school where I recently studied).

But when I fortunate enough to have the chance to ask a question I dived in with a social media one… asking him about anonymity in relation to his administration of the Facebook page credited with being a catalyst for the Egyptian revolution… given the success he described with bringing people together would have been impossible if real names were used throughout the process (he had mentioned earlier that working with others on the “We are all Khaled Saeed” Facebook page .. they did not reveal their true identities to one another during several months of organising). I also cheekily asked that he comment on the Google+ policy on real names in relation to this vital civic question..

Wael did not answer at great length – he said he was not on Google+ (nothing if not apparently honest to a fault!?) and that anonymity on the Facebook platform did not matter so much to his activities, since whilst running a Facebook page no one can publicly see who the admin is. He also said he trusted that Facebook would not have done anything dangerous with his data… that they could have traced him via IP anyway (I will cover this in a later post).. and he trusted the platform would not have misused what it knew about him.

I was grateful for this answer – but to pick back up on it… I would argue our brief exchange leaves wide open a rich and urgent territory for consideration in relation to online participation, democracy and identity:

  • In a short-term ‘revolutionary’ situation – using a social platform hosted in one country to discuss issues, organise and challenge the state of another may well be highly possible (for now)
  • But anonymity / pseudonymity which enables citizens to develop understanding and contribute to political commentary (particularly over extended periods of time) without fear of judgement or consequence from peers, colleagues, employers and state powers is not being built into the major social platforms in popular use by the mainstream in western democracies (for example, when you comment on the wall of a Facebook page – your real name is publicly visible)
  • As Sanna Trygg, myself and many others have argued, online comments can contribute to healthy public debate in general and open our media up to a more diverse and democratic discourse
  • However any social platform which stores real identities with political commentary may be used as a ‘technology of power’ which enables users’ opinion and interest data to be used against them for state or commercial purposes
  • Furthermore, contrary to the attitude of much ‘big media’ towards lowly unidentifiable commenters, on average, it has been found that online participation using pseudonyms often results in higher quality participation than that conducted using ‘real names’

This indicates the need for urgent attention to ways in which identity can be handled differently, more sensitively, by all using, designing, hosting and regulating participation online. If anonymity / pseudonymity as an option is more valuable and indeed safer for individual safety and liberty in any online forum where critical civic dialogue takes place… the case must be made and won, the software adapted and norms altered… while they still can be.


Online commenters largely appreciate responses from article authors within comment fields. Activity ‘below the line,’ by article originators stop web users feeling they are being talked down to and ignored (PDF).

So here I’d like to briefly showcase how Ars Technica are currently highlighting which of an article’s comments have been submitted by ‘above the line’ writers. It can be seen in this example that author’s comments are automatically identified in orange by the system:

If one wanted to be terribly picky one might say it is a continuation of the power iniquity for authors to have their comments marked out as special in this way. But I’d say on balance it is beneficial to the participation offer for it to be clear to both active and lurking web users (the majority of whom never comment) that responses are being read and taken account of.

Furthermore – there are lots of ars technica contributors that could do with taking a leaf out of Mr Lee’s above – a quick scoot around the site (of 10+ recent articles) to find further examples of neatly highlighted contributor comments turned up zilch.

Mood affects our benevolence and patience – how we create and consume media. So taking account of others’ moods is valuable when we communicate: on an individual, institutional and commercial level.

Claudio Ciborra once put it like this: “moods capture the situatedness of the actor as opposed to the situation of the action only.”

In addition to many factors that affect how we see and listen, what we say and how we say it (professional and friendship networks, personal interests, cultural positionality, prior experience and location) – mood always matters.

Yet it’s hard to tell mood online… where we usually cannot see other people’s faces. The slight raise of the eyebrow, roll of the eyes, gentle smirk. Irony, anger, sarcasm, humour can be completely missed as we send messages across cyberspace in the form of flat text. So the consideration of mood is important in social technology.. but is still a rarity.

WWF are using the Get Satisfaction platform to help capture ideas from web users – in the spirit of similar successful online crowdsourcing initiatives such as MyStarbucks Idea. WWF website visitors are presented with this pop-up as they browse the site:

A user can directly submit ideas through this – and also specify how the idea makes them feel. Each contribution then lives on the Get Satisfaction site – where others can vote and comment on it, and WWF can respond too. Interestingly you can also see, overall, collective users’ mood in relation to the idea.

In this case we have a fairly uncontroversial suggestion – about extending the annual Earth Hour event to happen more often. But we can imagine how this type of mood aggregation can, in the future, start to enable proactive, prosocial prioritization of responses by organisations and brands…

From understanding how upset people are about the imminent destruction of a particular rainforest, to how delighted they would be at the introduction of a new handbag shade, to how frustrated they are about socio-economic conditions – perhaps even if they are angry enough to riot

Moods cartoon by Candy Gourlay

The default assumption is that when you publish [on Facebook] you’re hitting 100% of your fan base all of the time…  That’s not the case. When you publish you have the tendency to hit the same fans again and again

Brad Smallwood, Head of Measurement and Insights, Facebook

A recent ComScore study has provided more data showing share of time spent on Facebook, in terms of content.

It follows that a key means to capture user attention on Facebook is to appear in their newsfeeds or photos. But appearing prominently in a user’s newsfeed is a matter of their demonstrated level of interest in a brand or organisation, based on previous interactions with it – the more a person engages with a brand on Facebook, the higher the chance they will see its posts in their ‘Top News.’ This is because the Facebook Newsfeed uses an algorithm (called Edge Rank) to rank content based upon the likely interest to a user. This has led some to suggest that comments are actually more valuable than likes to a brand’s Facebook page.

Aside from developing an effective Facebook content strategy for day to day wall-posting, and interacting in a friendly, helpful and timely way with users on the wall, another way of getting into user’s newsfeeds and photos is via page apps. Although the data above shows people are only interacting with apps 10% of the time – apps can also produce wall posts – even to friends of fans – tapping into Facebook’s virality. These items of content can then be engaged with in turn, driving further impressions for the brand.

Here are three examples of very different brands from different countries using Facebook apps that encourage fans to interact – resulting in the posting of messages and photos which appear on their own, and their friend’s walls.

Lacta personalised virtual chocolate

Lacta is the leading chocolate brand in Greece. It’s friend get friend Facebook app took it from 87,000 to 250,000 Facebook users in just two months – turning it into the most popular brand page in Greece. The app asked users to reproduce a virtual Lacta chocolate bar with the name of their loved one on it – and send it to them.

The messages were shared to their wall with the photo as well as appearing in their photo album with the person’s name tagged. After this app gained mass popularity, in a surprise twist, a trend began for people to upload their personalised Lacta bar as their profile pictures, ensuring even wider exposure for the brand on Facebook.

Strongbow Festival pub builder

This application on the Strongbow Facebook page invites fans to enter their Festival Pub Build 2011. People are invited to assemble a crew of five Facebook friends to earn three days of “VIP glory” for one day’s “graft” at one of the UK festivals where the pub has a presence.

To participate in the activity, consumers choose five “workmates” from their Facebook friends, and, in order to generate online communication around the crew, are asked to select and badge them from a list of 10 pre-defined stereotypes, including The Grafter, The Muscle and The Butterfingers. (They are all men – which I think is a bit of a flaw of the app – while many Strongbow cider drinkers are no doubt be male – they might just want female company along with them at the festival).

Once they have selected their workers, each entrant has a chance of their team being picked at random for the VIP festival experience. Importantly, every step of the way users of the app are encouraged to share what they are doing with relevant friends, and also encourage them to enter too – to increase the chance of winning among their friend group.

Get closer rewards real-world relationship activity

This Brazilian app was developed for toothpaste brand ‘Close Up’ – part of a campaign encouraging people to get up close in new ways. Designed to hook up activity between two people on Facebook – the ‘Get Closer’ app reveals surprise badges to people that take part and are in relationships.

Badges are rewarded based on tasks such as tagging each other in photos, or how long you’ve been in a relationship for. The rewards in the Get Closer app are surprises, so people are not incentivised to do things differently, rather the rewards are unlocked through actions they would naturally have taken. Interacting with the app posts to both users newsfeeds.

I’ve noticed more and more that it’s hard to see on some sites when something was published.

We used to talk about newspapers being tomorrow’s chip paper. But now the real time web means information can lose its interest-factor in just minutes. On Twitter, statistics show that 92% of retweets happen within 60 minutes, after which a tweet tends to slip off into obscurity.

92% retweets happen in first hour

Source: Sysomos

The knock-on effect of our obsession with now? Well it seems the desire to make content appear fresh for longer is affecting web design -meaning sites are deliberately hiding away article dates further down the page.

It would be interesting to see how far this practice actually affects dwell time. That is, does the same article with an older date (e.g. one year ago), attract more dwell time (time spent viewing) from users when the date is less prominent on a page. If I come across any statistical evidence on this I’ll post it here…

“Instead of trying to create the perfect algorithm, we try to create the perfect algorithm for you,” Thombre says.

In addition to tuning into your behavior to decide who you might like, also tunes into the behavior of people who are like you. The site looks for other users whose behavior mirrors your own (i.e. they have communicated with the same people who you have). It considers people who your behavior twins have interacted with to be more likely matches for you.

“We are like a bartender who is always observing particularly which types of people are talking to each other and hitting it off.”

Amarnath Thombre via Sarah Kessler

This blog is about utilizing and optimizing the social web for business, pleasure and social change

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