on Jul 2nd, 2007Social Design and the Opaque value problem
I read this post by Joshua Porter about the value of social networks and the opaque value problem and it got me thinking. Why and for what do we actually use web based services.
The fact that we don’t understand what value others get from social web apps is part of the paradigm of social software. The key is that each person has their own social lives, their own social circle, and thus their own social values. What is important to their social life will almost certainly be unimportant to us because we have our own to worry about.
Think of it this way. Each person has their own social network. Chances are that social network overlaps very little with yours. If, say, that person wanted recommendations for watching a movie, they might turn to their social network, which is made up of their family, friends, and colleagues. They would ask these people, the people they know and trust, what movies they recommend.
Now, would you turn to the same social network for movie recommendations? Of course not. You trust the people you know…your social network, and so any of the chatter from their social network has no value for you. It’s meaningless chatter. Just like most people’s Tweets on Twitter. In a larger sense, this opaque value problem affects most social software. Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, most social software is built around providing personalized, socially-focused conversation. It’s person-centered and as a result is difficult for anybody but that person to really appreciate: the value becomes opaque in this way. Designing social software is going to be very difficult. The designers won’t be able to put themselves into a position of someone who wants to keep up to date with their social network, which is something that all of these sites are doing.
What the excerpt from the original blog clearly states is that a person using a social software has his/her own reasons to do so. The fact that the others don’t know what value the other person sees in a social network is the entire basis behind social software. I may log into myspace to chat with my peer group, but I dont know what my friend X does in her network, so what do I do ? I snoop around their profiles and walls to get a glimpse of their world coz her value from the network is opaque to me .
The goal of social software is evolve from this paradigm to a more productive one. Efforts are on to make social software enter the productivity space and that too with good success. Based on all of these observations, how do you design for a social concept. How do we actually add value to the users ? Its not easy to please everyone, but at least if the majority is kept happy, you can be sure of winning product.