Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Commitment Levels in Service Design

We are in the process of concepting a web-service for the City of Helsinki (overseen by that is designed to enable entrepreneurs, consultants and related organizations to better find and share information. To filter and fine-tune the concept we are using a framework that we have developed based on the work of some highly regarded web practitioners and on our own list of in-house criteria.

However, I have just added a new "commandment" to our list that I have never seen directly discussed – commitment. What levels of commitment do you expect from your users? Depending on the type of service you have to think about this very carefully.

Case-study: Jaiku & Twitter

Compare to Twitter, Jaiku’s superior discussion abilities generate a compulsion that one should be actively responding. And it is wonderful how responsive Jaiku users are; however, many people don’t have the time to be constantly on top of such services. So if you miss a comment that was left a day or two ago, you start ‘to feel a bit bad’ that you did not react more quickly. Whereas with Twitter, it gives the feeling that it’s fine to simply post status messages with no or very low levels of engagement.

Some research from Amsterdam University describes this phenomenon in the following way (I have highlighted the words I feel are related to commitment):

"The pace of Twitter reinforces the feeling of situated connectivity and enables group formation. This situated connectivity advances a pure form of Wittel’s definition of sociality (Wittel 2001), in which relations are briefly intense and are solely based on particular points of interest and not on history. Users of Twitter can express themselves, without necessarily making a lasting impression. The ephemeral character of minute to minute diaries and the website’s non-directive character make the platform rather open to spontaneous reactions. Discussing or eavesdropping is minimized by the medium’s pace. Therefore, comments are relatively simple and explicit, which makes Twitter easily accessible to new users, because of the absence of pressures to comply with the intellectual level of the audience." [Bouman et al. 2008]

Twitter's interface physically fragments discussions which serves to further insulate users from extended critique (unlike Jaiku's comment discussions) and reduces the average number of responses "required" for any single Tweet. So rather than Jaiku's committed specific discussions, Twitter creates more loosely formed general conversations that are easier to dip in and out of. However, for specific communities (e.g. IT researchers) Jaiku's forum-like capabilities can prove to be more useful.

To further reduce Twitter's commitment levels aggregator services like TweetDeck nicely collect peoples "replies" and will notify you as they arrive. And TwitterMail can even email you the notifications.

Some services track and display user activity, however, this can sometimes have the negative effect of making casual users feel inadequate – resulting in them detaching further. And network theories suggest that a large number of week ties are more useful than a limited network of strong ties:

"The shape of a social network helps determine a network's usefulness to its individuals. Smaller, tighter networks can be less useful to their members than networks with lots of loose connections (weak ties) to individuals outside the main network. More open networks, with many weak ties and social connections, are more likely to introduce new ideas and opportunities to their members than closed networks with many redundant ties. In other words, a group of friends who only do things with each other already share the same knowledge and opportunities. A group of individuals with connections to other social worlds is likely to have access to a wider range of information. It is better for individual success to have connections to a variety of networks rather than many connections within a single network. Similarly, individuals can exercise influence or act as brokers within their social networks by bridging two networks that are not directly linked (called filling structural holes). "Wikipedia, accessed 22 April 2009]


Facebook does a brilliant job of accommodating both the avid and causal user. There is no end of the interaction opportunities available for the avid user, but a once-a-weeker can still drop in, catchup, and feel the benefits.

My current gut feeling is that if your service is aimed at a diverse range of users then you have to design for low-levels of commitment; however, if the network is very specific users might benefit from more high-level commitment expectations.

So think about how the experience would be for both the committed and the casual user and ideally try to accommodate both.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Intention Broadcasting Introduction Video

Intention Broadcasting – An introduction from Zipipop on Vimeo.

Social media innovations, together with rapidly improving data sharing methodologies, are enabling individuals and groups to instantly disseminate, or ‘broadcast’, messages across many diverse networks. This phenomenon, combined with the growing use of social media services for sharing and coordinating intentions, led me to develop the concept of “intention broadcasting”.