in Ideas

What social platforms get wrong about relationships

Lately, I’ve been confounded by a desire to tweet about music. Because it’s not 2008, I decided to start spending more time with Cymbal.

Since the demise of Rdio (RIP), there hasn’t been a great place online besides forums and random slack channels to talk about music. The problem with most of these existing places are the difficulties involved in joining conversations, memes, and the cultural mores of networks that you join too late. Twitter is a lot like this, but it’s a wide enough that can sort of ride your bike along the highway while everyone talks.

I’ve written a lot about lukewarm social networks over the past few years, because they have a lot to show us about experimentation, social design & cultivating community.

Cymbal is a social network where you can post songs and talk about them with other people. It’s relatively straightforward. Rather than breakdown the app (you can download it yourself)

The death of news feeds is overrated. I can understand the ill-effects of having a ton of information to consume and how easy it is to lose people when someone overposts. Cultural mores related to overposting, coupled with the addition of tools like muting and hiding give consumers a way to control feeds better.

Fire hydrants are better for discovery. Much like social recommendations are bad for hiring purposes (and yet, companies insist on using them) they’re also bad for diversifying your user base. The reason? Friend patterns often reflect people’s broader friendship interactions. I call this the wedding party test. Look at the wedding parties of people’s photos on Facebook and you can get a sense of how not-diverse most people’s social circles really are. I’ve stopped being surprised by it, but this anecdotal theory points to the reason so many niche networks borne around a broad topic need a way for people to engage, connect and find out what people are talking about whenever they’re interested.

Apps that punish users who want to spend too much time on the app are killing off potential active users because they don’t have enough friends to coax into using the new platform.

Having experimented with dozens of new networks over the years, I’ve gone from shouting to the rooftops to convince friends to participate, to simply existing on them and being surprised when I run into people I know elsewhere. It’s nice to be able to connect my Twitter friends — the ones who aren’t real-life friends — on a network where we can talk about a specific thing or where you get the opportunity to engage with a third-degree connection on a more personal level besides knowing each other through someone else.

These sorts of connections are harder to cultivate in an always-on, notification crazy social landscape.

1. Not more people. More ordinary people.

Right now, new networks coax influencers in the hopes of generating buzz and legitimacy. While they’re adding new features fairly often, the challenges of crafting a new network means speeding up the reasons to make people come back. Without connections to interesting people who actually engage regularly at the content we share, you’re simply not going to have reasons to keep posting on a network with largely redundant features of other networks.

Influencers & brands alone won’t generate the sort of buzz you want.

2. Your own network isn’t enough

I like my existing friends there isn’t enough compelling content to make those sole connections the reason you keep showing up. Unless you live in a hip area where you can convince enough friends to use the tool. Your future app won’t work appealing to the 1% of your area, when it’s meant to be a network. You need people to discover each other around common interests that might be harder to find on mature networks like Tumblr or Twitter.

3. Deciding what you want your network to be when it ‘grows up’

The challenge of a product’s growth from plaything to maturity involves design decisions centered around who you’re trying to reach. You can’t appeal to everybody, even though it sometimes feels that way. Some of the best tools are in the graveyard of deadpool, regardless of how beloved they might have been by a subset of users. (RIP Rdio)

These are limited use cases by one person with a relatively constrained network. I think the best use cases for a new network are giving people who aren’t being heard an opportunity to share with others in a relatively unfettered environment without a ton of noise. Central to this premise is the need for better discovery.

Modern social platforms are overly designed compared to their Web 1.0 predecessors. The best communities in real life and online, work together organically. Self-policing can help, but it requires a kind of moderation that comes from good cultivation early and constantly reevaluating the mores of what the community will deem in-bounds or out-of-bounds.

At their best, networks give us unparalleled ability to reach and connect with a diverse array of people, but where they fail is providing users with the rapid ability to craft the community that might have been displaced on a larger (or dead) network. Therein lies the opportunity space for successful communities that thrive and benefit their hosts.