New Commenting Hurdle

I first started blogging on October 17, 2006 and initially turned on open commenting. Most blogs and sites did that around that time. The idea was to encourage open communication between the person writing the blog and anyone who wanted to write a comment. By 2007, I was getting spam comments on the blog so turned on moderated commenting. That turned out to take a fair amount of time moderating the comments and it also led to questions from users who wondered where their comment had gone. By February 2009, I turned on open commenting again to see how that would work this time around. The plan was to allow direct commenting and publishing the comments automatically but for me to spend some time once every several weeks to moderate comments after the fact. The problem is that there have been have been a surprising number of spam comments. So much so that I've decided to turn on limited moderated commenting.

I had a look around and found out that most sites actually use some form of moderated commenting. The key news sites and tech blogs use this. The only exceptions appear to be sites like YouTube and I've been finding the comments are the worst part of YouTube. The ratio of thoughtful and valuable comments to sheer crap is like 1 to 50. I find unfortunate that virtually everything that is made available has to either be gamed for a cheap buck or taken over by fools.

Please let me know if the change in the commenting system is too much of a hurdle (note that the photo of a hurdle shown above is courtesy of Fanboy30 via Creative Commons license.) 

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.

Human-Human Computer Interaction

The term "Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)" has been used for years to describe the discipline concerned with improving computer technology for humans. All those years, the focus was on improving the ways in which humans could get information into and out of computer systems. Of course, that discipline is still going strong. However, with the advent of Web 2.0, I'd like to suggest that the term "Human-Human Computer Interaction" is more directly relevant.

I've written previously in this blog about various aspects of Web 2.0 and have made the point that much of so-called wisdom of crowds was really the wisdom of a few in the crowd. In other words, many of the Web 2.0 sites like Wikipedia, Flickr, and Digg have contributions of content from less than one percent of their users. However, such is not the case with Web 2.0 sites and services that truly involve Human-to-Human connections. These include MySpace, Facebook, and perhaps the best example Twitter.

Twitter is a fascinating phenomenon. When you describe Twitter to someone, they invariably respond with something like, "I can't imagine why anyone would use that". They're of that view until they first try it and then they're hooked. Twitter essentially involves keying in 140 characters of text (that's right, no graphics) and allowing others to read what you write (followers) and you being able to read what others write (following). That's it, full stop.

So, what's the appeal? Human-to-human contact. Its really easy to access the service. In addition to using the website, you can text in your updates using your cell phone (if you're in North America), you can use various desktop applications (Twirl is my favorite), and you can use various iPhone/iPod Touch apps (Twitterrific is my favorite). And, its really easy to follow other people and have them follow you. What about the content, you say. Well, I follow industry leaders, news services, and friends. Many of those as well as people who listen to my podcasts follow me. I can stay current with current events and news by the minute as they unfold, read about websites and blog posts that people whom I follow recommend, and I get a personal insight into the lives of people whom I follow and the same goes for people who follow me.

What's interesting from a design point of view is that Twitter has virtually no user interface to speak of - just 140 characters of content. The important insight to take away from the huge success of this application/service is that it is fundamentally a really easy way to connect human-to-human in a way that people find it powerful and valuable. Lots of Web 2.0 technologies and tools try to deliver on this promise but most fail. The reason why this one hasn't is its amazing simplicity and its support of what makes us human.

If you'd like to try it for yourself, just go to and sign up (its free of course). And if you'd like to follow me, I'm karelvredenburg on Twitter.

The Wisdom of a Few in the Crowd

Much has been made of Web 2.0's wisdom of crowds and the notion that the new read-write web is the ultimate democratic everyone can contribute nirvana. When you run a Web 2.0 site, which I have, you quickly learn that things don't really work that way. Lots and lots of people may visit and use the site but very few actually contribute. You then spend some time pondering how your Web 2.0 site could be so different from all the other Web 2.0 sites out there but if you also do a bit of digging, you find out that they're all like that. Less than one percent of all visitors to Web 2.0 sites actually contribute anything! Turns out that that very small number of very dedicated people do a lot to contribute, hence the title above "the wisdom of a few in the crowd". What's even more interesting to learn, though, is how the big Web 2.0 sites like Digg and Wikipedia actually work. Slate Magazine recently ran a really interesting article, Digg, Wikipedia, and the myth of Web 2.0 democracy that examines several different models of contribution and governance that are being used at the various sites.

Web 2.0's Built-in Customer Input & Collaboration

During Web 1.0 and before that, companies had to go out of their way to collect feedback from their customers and when they did, it was in the form of customers communicating directly with the company. Web 2.0 changes all of that. Now customer feedback is an integral component of most social computing sites. And, the feedback is public. This provides great benefits to companies by getting more direct and regular feedback but it also changes the nature of the feedback process in that customers can also use the feedback from other customers directly as well. An article by Vicky Burger on Web 2.0 transformation addresses this topic.

However, things are not quite the way you may think they are in the world of social computing. Very few people are aware of a recent study which shows that less than one percent of visitors to social computing sites contribute in any way including providing feedback whether comments or ratings. So, the challenge here is that companies are now able to get additional feedback directly from customers but they may run in to two problems. The first is that unless the site gets a huge number of hits, the amount of feedback the site may collect will likely be very small (remember less than 1% contribute). The second, and perhaps even more difficult to deal with, problem concerns the likelihood of the sample being unrepresentative in some way. I haven't seen any research on characteristics of users who tend to contribute to sites versus those who don't and without that type of information it is difficult to determine whether the feedback a company gets in this way is representative or biased in some way.

Companies that are serious about making strategic decisions on the bases of direct customer feedback coming from Web 2.0 sites would be wise to adopt the best practice from market research of directly testing the non-response bias. The way that's done is to solicit input on the same questions from people who didn't contribute the information unsolicited and then comparing the results to test for a systematic bias. Without a specific focus on this aspect of Web 2.0 user feedback, companies could find themselves honing the designs of their sites based on the feedback of the small group of people who contribute feedback and these changes may not be optimal for the entire population of users who the company is trying to satisfy.

Social Networking Design - Privacy Settings

Do you know what your privacy setting are in Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter? Most people just take the default settings which are not very private. But you say, of course their not private, it is a "social networking" site after all. Social networking in Web 2.0 doesn't mean showing your embarrassing pics from last night's party or in the bath pics of your 5-year old to absolutely everyone!

Most people who have spent a bit of time looking into the privacy settings on Facebook (my favorite), for example, have learned to restrict certain parts of their profile to only their friends and also changed the default access to at least their network (which by itself can be a couple of million users!). A recent article from heise online provides some additional information on this topic. It is an interesting challenge to find the right default design point regarding privacy when the essence of the site is social sharing. Web 2.0 introduces lots of interesting challenges like this to designers.

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

Mashup Privacy Concerns

Mashups increasingly make data which were heretofore not made available easy to deliver to users or it is the process of putting together disparate data sources which is now possible. An article in Computerworld makes the case for privacy concerns from mashups much like the Kobe Bryant incident involving text messaging data. Access the article for more information on this.

Microsoft: Watch out for Web 2.0's 'Kobe Bryant' moment

An Interesting New Approach to Tag Browsing

The tag cloud appears to be the ubiquitous web 2.0 user interface control. When I first saw the cloud, I thought it was ugly. I did get used to it due largely to exposure. Despite its ugliness, the cloud packs a lot of useful information into a relatively small space and its fairly usable. However, I still think we need alternative design ideas for the function of the cloud. Here's one I came across which here is used to browse Flickr. You just type a tag word in, and you will get a 6x6 grid of thumbnails. When you move the mouse, you see a circle of related tags. Speed isn't its greatest feature but the idea is interesting especially the thumbnails in the center and the ability to drill down into them further within the control. The one addition I'd make is to make the circle of related tags illustrate relative relatedness by distance from the center. But still, some interesting user interface design work.

read more | digg story

Active Involvement in Web 2.0 Still Low

New results show that a small percentage of users of so-called social computing or Web 2.0 sites get actively involved in directly contributing to the site. An article on summarizes the results. A key point that is made is that most of these sites, like YouTube, Flickr, and Wikipedia have huge numbers of people actually viewing them so if a relatively small percentage of them contribute, that still accounts for some significant contribution numbers. However, it is important for those building Web 2.0 capabilities into the projects and products to keep these percentages in mind when tracking both passive and active interactions.

Everything you ever wanted to know about AJAX but were afraid to ask...

This aims to be the simplest possible AJAX example, using only static HTML files. Examples can be tried on the website, or downloaded and run locally. First, there is a (short) explanation on the DOM, then on the XML HTTP Request Object and finally the two are combined to make AJAX. A more useful example with a PHP-driven backend is also available.

read more | digg story

Adopting Web 2.0 Externally but not Internally

A couple of recent announcements from two large, very well-known organizations provides some interesting data points on how Web 2.0 is affecting the product designs and business processes of otherwise very traditional institutions. Both USA Today and the U.S. Patent and Trademark office have recently unveiled strategies for letting their users use two-way Web capabilities to contribute directly to the products and services they offer. And many other mainstream companies, such as Pepsi as well as GM and XM Radio have been exploring externally-facing Web 2.0 concepts in their products for a while now.

See the article for more: More organizations shift to Web 2.0 while IT departments remain wary


Visual Design Characteristics of Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is many things. In fact, some would argue that it is too many things and, as a result, people have a difficult time figuring out what it encompasses. I won't go into that here. However, one key element of Web 2.0 is its unique visual design trend. Reflections, clean, simple, and wordmarks without the final consonant. The link below includes a summary of over 65 tutorials, references, and related resources, which have been designed to help you to create graphics in Web 2.0-Look. Have a look and start Web 2.0izing your designs.


read more | digg story