Life Habits is on Facebook

Listeners of my Life Habits podcast have requested that I create a Facebook page for the series. Thus far, I've just had listeners join my personal Facebook page. However, given the interest and the opportunity to use the space to provide updates, photos, and behind-the-scenes information, I've now created a dedicated Facebook page. If you listen to the podcast, please visit the Life Habits podcast page on Facebook and click the "Like" button. I look forward to interacting with you over on the page. Thanks!

Interactions on Facebook vs. Twitter

I've been on Facebook and Twitter for years and have written some six thousand tweets and countless (because they're not counted) Facebook updates. I typically get on social networks soon after they're available and do the same with digital gadgets. I have personal Facebook and Twitter accounts and IBM Design Facebook and Twitter accounts as well (the company Facebook account is handled by a member of my team, Scott Lewis). The follower/friend counts are as follows: Facebook personal account 350, Facebook company account 1,548, Twitter personal account 1,367, and Twitter company account 13,748. 

I've been noticing a change in my use and enjoyment of these two social networking systems over the past few months. I tend to spend most of my social networking time on Facebook these days and only occassionally on Twitter. One of the reasons for preferring Facebook is the amount of interaction I typically have as well as the richness of content which includes photographs and videos. I also find that the interaction is richer with "likes" as well as comments. The fact that the discussion thread stays together and is visible is also key as is the fact that the discussion tends to go on for days and sometimes weeks. In contrast, replies on Twitter aren't kept together or visible, and then to only last for an hour or two. I find that Twitter is better at announcing things and sharing links which then get retweeted by others. The retweets are gratifying but not quite the same as a substantive conversation. Don't get me wrong, I have had good interactions on Twitter on both my IBM Design company account as well as on my personal one. There are people on Twitter whom I have great conversations with and while I enjoy those conversations, they aren't as frequent, deep, or lengthly as they are on Facebook.

I wanted to test my impression that I have more interactions on Facebook compared to Twitter so I conducted a mini experiment. I posted the following on Facebook, "Karel Vredenburg is conducting an experiment comparing Facebook and Twitter to see which has the most interaction. Let's see how many likes this update can generate. The same request will be made on Twitter. Thanks!" and the same, albeit slightly shortened text due to the 140 character limit was posted on Twitter, "I'm conducting an experiment comparing Facebook & Twitter to see which has the most interaction. Let's see how many replies we can generate." The results were that the update on Facebook generated 19 likes and the post on Twitter yielded 2 replies. When I thanked the 2 people on Twitter who replied, that led to three more replies from one of my Twitter followers. A post just prior to this about the same topic yielded 3 likes and 5 comments from different people on Facebook but no activity at all on Twitter.

I should point out that this is based on my own experience alone and likely also has something to do with the composition of friends and followers I have on the two systems. My Facebook friends are comprised of actual friends, family, colleagues, and a few listeners of my Life Habits podcast series. My personal Twitter account has a few friends and colleagues as followers but the remainder are people who linked to me but whom I really don't know at all outside of Twitter. The company accounts on Facebook and Twitter are naturally made up of virtually all people I don't know at all outside of these systems. However, that doesn't mean there isn't good interaction with those accounts, just that the interaction is less frequent per follower. I should mention that I've also been on Google's Buzz which did support threaded conversations and I'm also on LinkedIn with its update function. Neither of these systems has kept my interest in terms of interactions.

Of course all users will have a different experience with these systems because there are so many variables that can differ for any two people. I thought it interesting to hear the views of netcaster Leo Laporte on this topic. He has no use for Facebook other than being aware of its features in order to report on them and finds greater value in Twitter and, in fact, also preferred Google's Buzz but no longer uses that system. 

I'd appreciate hearing about your experiences on these two social networking systems using the commenting system of this site. Interestingly, when I post links to my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter, I usually get comments within Facebook on the link rather than here on the blog.

Is Blogging Dead?

I was shocked when I realized that I hadn't blogged here since November 6th last year. Of course I've mini-blogged via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and audio-blogged via UXDesignCast and Life Habits podcasts. I've even hosted a webcast or two. The problem is that I always argue with others who say that blogging is dead having been replaced by these newer alternatives. I argue that we still need the longer format so that you can express deeper, wider, and longer thoughts than a 140 character space affords. However, my own behavior has betrayed me.

I refuse to give up on the concept that blogging is important for the following reasons.

  1.  Bloggers need to write the material that everyone else can write tweets and Facebook updates about. It's bad enough that we seem to be losing investigative journalists who can spend time to get into depth and truly investigate a story. If we lose bloggers, we'll have even fewer sources of original material. I did some investigation some years ago into the practice within academia of citing journal articles without actually reading them. I tracked down the original article that virtually all journal articles in a particular research area cited and found out that it didn't say at all what people thought it said. I then proceeded to do the actual research properly and published it in a prestigious journal and now that paper is often cited at least as often as the original. My point is that we now have many, many people on these social networking sites looking for things to communicate which is great if there is enough source material to communicate about. With newspapers decreasing and if blogging also declines, there's is very little source material left. What are we left with then? Celebrity gossip. Argh.
  2. We need original thought and a mechanism to express it openly using as many characters, words, and paragraphs that are needed. I often listen to podcasts that are longer versions of radio programs. I don't listen to live radio or TV for that matter. I find it interesting that the hosts point out that the full interviews are available only in the podcast form. I prefer to hear the whole story, not some edited down few minutes. I listen to audio books and always download the unabridged version. I can't imagine not wanting the whole book. That's how I see blogs - the full, unabridged version. I still like to read tweets or Facebook updates that point me to interesting blogs - that's how I now find them by and large. I also still use an RSS reader but don't use it as much for getting pointers to blogs to read.

So, blogs are still important but there's still a problem. There are still only 24 hours in a day (although a Facebook friend showed me how to increase it to 26 hours BTW). If you're tweeting, Facebooking, podcasting, and reading tweets, Facebook updates, and listening to podcasts and audiobooks, when do you have time to blog? The answer is one that I give regularly in episodes of my Life Habits podcast: determine your priorities and plan your time accordingly. I sometimes load up my iPhone with an episode or two of my own podcasts, particularly the Life Habits one and listen to my own advice. I'll do that in this case too and, in turn, devote some more time to thinking, writing longer than 140 character thoughts, and thus contributing to the content others can tweet about.


As always, I'd greatly appreciate your thoughts on my thoughts using the comment capability of this blog or via Twitter, Facebook, my podcast shownotes sites, or wherever you'd like.

Thanks for doing your part in contributing to the survival of the blogosphere.

Social Software

We're all familiar with Social Software like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs in the consumer space but little is often said about making this capability available in the enterprise space. I post regularly to all these systems and have done for some time but have been looking forward to a complete solution to use inside a company and behind its firewall as well. The latest release of our IBM Lotus Connections 2.5 product does just that. Listen to my interview with two of the lead designers on the project in this podcast.

Social Networking: The Walled Garden

Like many of you, I'm on the major social networking systems Twitter and Facebook and also contribute content on this blog, two podcasts, and two websites. The problem I see is that each of these systems is a walled garden. Podcaster Leo Laporte has been talking about this in general lately too. When I write a post here, people read it and make comments on the blog itself. I also tweet about it on Twitter and send it as a link on Facebook. The latter two also often generate further discussion within Twitter and Facebook. The blog content is picked up by other sites and blogs which leads to further discussion there. The problem is that nothing pulls this all together. Readers of this blog don't see some of the great comments followers have tweeted on Twitter or friends have left on Facebook unless you follow me on Twitter or are a friend of mine on Facebook. Add to that, the comments regarding podcasts which are in iTunes and on the respective show notes sites.

It is interesting to point out that this mostly relevant to comments made rather than the originating content. Tools like TweetDeck allow you to post content to Twitter and Facebook accounts and blog posts and podcasts themselves are syndicated via RSS but the comments about any of this content remains within the social networking walled gardens. To continue the analogy, it is like the hosts of garden parties freely walk from one garden to the next but their guests have to stay within the walls of their designated parties.
A solution here isn't obvious and likely is being worked hard by people at Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The challenge is that some of these systems are wide open like Twitter while others are closed like Facebook. While Facebook is working on making itself more open (and the recent purchase of FriendFeed will likely expedite this), I still think that it needs to tread carefully. Rather than making everything wide open on Facebook, my vote would be to have a checkbox on a post or comment indicating that it can be shared or perhaps a more pervasive option but one that is still under the control of the user. Then we also need the ability to aggregate all content related to a particular topic. For example, all comments about this blog post whether they were written in the comment box here or a reply on Twitter, or a comment in Facebook would appear or be directly accessible from each of those sources.
As always, I welcome your thoughts - using whichever walled commenting system you'd like.


Facebook and Twitter: The Web 2.0 Stars

A defining characteristic of Web 2.0 is the bidirectional nature of communication. Rather than users simply reading and consuming content from websites, Web 2.0 is all about users being able to contribute back ratings, comments, and other content. During those early days of Web 2.0, my team built a system that depended on ratings, comments, and content contributions. I was pretty disappointed when I looked at the rates of contribution from users until I looked at the rest of the industry. Despite all the hype about this characteristic of Web 2.0, actual statistics for sites like Wikipedia, Digg, and Flickr were initially pretty disappointing too with contribution percentages with values that were less than one percent.

It took Facebook and Twitter to drive dramatic increases in individual contributions. In fact, the primary actions users take in these systems are to contribute. I've polled friends on Facebook and people who follow me on Twitter and have developed the following model of contribution. People feel the most comfortable contributing on Facebook because they know it is only their friends and colleagues reading and viewing. Twitter is next but most people have friends and strangers too following them there so they are still reasonably comfortable contributing but less so than Facebook. Commenting on blogs, in comparison, is considered in third position feeling less personal and intimate.

If you have any thoughts on this and don't find this space too impersonal, feel free to contribute to the discussion using the commenting mechanism on this blog.

Fine-Tuning the Design Throttle

I've been reflecting on a phenomenon that I've observed that is characterized by a team coming up with a significantly improved design which is then met with strong negative feedback by users. What's puzzling is that the design itself is clearly far superior to the previous design but yet users are negative on it.

Facebook, for example, recently launched a brand new design that, in my view, is clearly superior in many ways yet I've witnessed predominantly negative feedback on it. This is despite, as I pointed out earlier in this blog, the fact that the Facebook design team sought out and received extensive feedback from users on particular design issues using its own tool. Similarly, Microsoft's new ribbon user interface represented a bold attempt to re-design their Office suite. It is clearly a significantly better design but when I use it, I often have to spend valuable time trying to find a function that used to be second nature for me to find with the old design. There are many more examples like this.

This seems to be happening more frequently lately. I suspect that we didn't see this as much years ago when visual and interaction design disciplines weren't as influential as they often are today. With that influence, though, comes the responsibility of determining how much improvement is just right, not too little and not too much. I'd like to propose that there is a "design delta threshold" beyond which teams shouldn't take their designs. This threshold mostly applies to products and systems that are used by many users for whom the design hasn't changed for a long time.

The best way to know whether you're exceeding the design delta threshold is likely not by carrying out isolated design feedback or user studies. These may not provide an overall sense of the changed user experience design. An Agile Development approach that involves the delivery of fully functioning subsets of the product or system and gathering user feedback on these progressive milestone versions of the evolving offering are likely the best way of determining whether the changed design is exceeding the magic threshold. Teams should be vigilant too in looking for evidence of exceeding the threshold and then racheting back the design to a level that is acceptable to users. At times, it may take a release or two extra to make the complete transformation in the design.

Those who have been around user experience design circles for many years I'm sure are please to see designers having a signficant impact and likely welcome, as do I, the new challenges of fine-tuning the design throttle in the ways outlined here.

Designing in Collaboration with 100,000 Users

MySpace is widely recognized as a user interface design mess. Facebook started out life as the clean and simple design alternative. However, with the addition of its development platform that created numerous 3rd party apps, the Facebook profile user interface has become more cluttered, unwieldy, and disorganized. Interestingly, recent stats from Nielsen indicate that Facebook traffic to the site is declining too.

The User Experience and Design team at Facebook has launched a major redesign. They're considering organizing the profile content using tabs, adding a new publisher feature for more simply adding content, and making navigation to applications easier via a drop-down menu. They don't plan on changing the site's visual signature, color palette, or branding. The design changes aren't radical but the approach to getting user input is. The team created a Facebook group within which they've been previewing proposed designs and then, using the commenting feature of Facebook, getting user feedback on them. There are 104,629 users in that group as of this writing and lots of them are providing valuable feedback. I think its brilliant that the team is using their own site to design the site.

The Facebook organization appears to be maturing given the way they're approaching this redesign. Previous changes to the site apparently didn't involve iterative design with user input and the results were disastrous.

I look forward to seeing and experiencing their redesign as an observer of their design as well as a daily user of Facebook itself.

For an in-depth report on this project, checkout BusinessWeek's recent story on Facebook's Big Facelift.

Facebook teams with RIM

It often takes vendors of amazingly successful products to get together to push into a new paradigm. That may well just be happening with the partnership between RIM and Facebook. Social computing just entered into a new phase on mobile devices with RIM's Facebook implementation. While this is a significant development, I'm a little worried that it may also be creating a bunch of monsters. I already see many people around me wedded to their Blackberries while mobile and then being wedded to their computers using Facebook when not mobile. Now, what will they do. We may never be able to talk to them again! Of course, Facebook accessibility has already been available on mobile devices but in a much more limited way (its available on my mobile phone but only for viewing and updating my status).

Facebook teams with RIM for Web 2.0 on-the-go | The Register