Specific design decisions are important to achieve specific outcomes. The one that iss most poignant to me is the decision to build quantity or quality content.
If you want big numbers and lots of content, make it super simple to join/post/etc. “Of course we want big numbers, Tara!” you are thinking. But it’s not entirely desireable. The downside to simple signup/posting/etc is that it attracts low-brow content. Sure, there are lots of users, but the content can become terribly uninteresting and sometimes spammy.
If you want quality content and users, you make sign up a little more arduous and content a little harder to post. Not impossible or even difficult, but your design requires the user to sign up with a little more information and posts to require a little more thought.
But it seems that today, all people seem to care about is quantity. Big numbers. Fast. This leads to ‘hyped up startups of the week’ where everyone talks about how freakin awesome and huge a startup is for 2 seconds, then moves onto the next one and rarely (if ever) discusses that startup again. When the in crowd moves on, all that’s left is drivel content. That’s not a sustainable business or something that I ever want to build (but it seems to be what any angels or vcs want us to build).
“Allow anonymous posting!”
“Take out steps to adding content!”
I think there is a happy balance of creating an app where there is an ease of use and quick posting while requiring real people that have something significant to say to have a voice.
Facebook used to be that place. You needed to sign up with your real name. If you were going to post, you’d have to come up with something fairly original and semi-interesting to say before you hit post. Not all content was interesting to everyone. But it was original and it said something about the person posting it. There were rants, personal photos, bad days, breakups, new relationships, inspirations, arguments, embarrassing drunken confessions, more embarrassing tagged photos of others in compromising moments, commentary, food porn….the list goes on and on and on. Whether or not you found something interesting in your feed was completely subjective. I, for one, love the mundane. I’m deeply interested in the bits and bobs of people’s lives.
And that content still exists, but it is starting to give way to something else: RE-posting.
The other day I thought to myself, “Egad, Facebook has turned into Tumblr!” I think Tumblr is lovely. It’s easy to use and well-designed, but I find the content on Tumblr shite. It seems to be all about following as many people as you can, then finding the best, most inspiring, funniest, prettiest, craziest stuff and hitting a little button to post it to your own Tumblr. It’s the image equivalent to retweeting and I wouldn’t mind it so much, but it creates a whole lot of noise without any originality.
Take, for instance, the screenshot I took today. Yes. I think the post is interesting and very poignant…the first time I see it. And I may even appreciate how others share it because it shows me who is aligned with this line of thought in my stream. But after 20+ shares (or REposts), I start to roll my eyes. And believe me, I’m JUST as guilty of this as anyone here. It’s a rush to REpost something poignant and have a whole bunch of people REpost it from you. “Look at all the people I influenced! I’m special!” But I’m not. I was most likely the 2,345,896th person to REpost this on Facebook. I just happened to get a jump on a few dozen others.
I hate to wax poetically about the good ole days (though I have been more and more lately), but back when I started blogging, people became popular by producing amazing original content and thoughts. And if you were going to discuss someone else’s idea, you would ADD to the conversation by coming up with some of your own thoughts and then link back to the original blogger’s post. And we got smarter and were made to think about why something resonated with us and how we could improve on the original rather than just add noise.
Maybe there is no such thing as original thought anymore? Or maybe we’ve just got too busy to form our own ideas and articulate them. Or maybe it’s just unpopular to do so. Who knows. But when every platform becomes a REposting platform, I start to get really bored of the “social web” and long for a small community of original thinkers who don’t care about popularity or REposts, but instead care about learning and growing and making something worth archiving.
Tumblr is great and it exists to REpost stuff ad nauseum and somehow it works for the communities it serves. Google+ attempted to do it, too (but when you start with poor content, the hype wears off fast – lesson?). If Facebook wants to go in that direction, then I’m worried about its future. Maybe we’ll go back to blogging. Maybe something else will come along to fill that void.
But popular or not, I’m going to continue to try to produce content that isn’t about hype and is about adding to the conversation instead of just adding noise. At least as much as I can.