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Design Mediator: User Interface Techniques for Social Sites

The Web has become a social hub for all generations.  We’re no longer simply dealing with computers that teach and facilitate users.  Today the computer is much more like a go-between.  The real action happens between people.

However, this interaction between people on computers, for example, on Facebook, Digg or Twitter, is the indirect interaction.  On a computer, a real person to person contact must have a facilitator, an enabler, before it can actually occur.  That enabler is the user interface design.

In this post, we’ll see how various user interface techniques have a profound impact on social activities on the Web, and we’ll share with you how you can use them to work for you.

UI Design Techniques for the Social Web

 1.  Provide Motivation

User points and badges can be the carrot on the stick visitors need to get involved more on social news sites.  Users of Facebook and Twitter as well as other social sites have the option of anonymous spectating – and many of them take that option.  If too many visitors do so, the result is a social site with very little socializing taking place.

To avoid such predicaments, user interfaces must stand in the gap and motivate visitors to act and react sufficiently.  This may require a little ingenuity on the part of designers, but the good news is there are a few techniques that can get the job done.  Namely, point systems and badges reward a user for participation, instilling a sense of accomplishment on the site that keeps visitors interacting.  See, for example, the Envato badges below.


Keep in mind, however, point systems, in particular, are easily abused when, say, a user submits a ton of poor quality comments just to increase his points’ total.  It’s important to understand how to increase user interaction without sacrificing site submission quality.

2.  Next Level Motivation

An even better motivator would be to reserve certain parts or functions of a website only for users with high activity rates.  This is motivation on another level because rather than provide incentives based on sheer quantity of actions, the reward is based on some other authentic factor such as the number of likes received on a submitted post.  Rewards such as this one are based on the actual value of a particular contribution, as determined by the social website community itself.

Hacker News

3.  Ban the Bad Actor

No matter what the content of your social site, one or two of your users may cause unnecessary disturbances, and there should be a way to deal with such situations.  In other words, the design should anticipate the activity of unwanted comments and replies and have some sort of banning system in place.  Banning a user usually involves blocking their name, IP address, comments and/or replies from the main site.  Generally, the guest is asked to leave prior to the banning.

However, there is a more effective way which involves no prior notification to the user.  Primarily, you want a trouble making visitor to simply be quiet.  At least this is the motivation for a ban on any particular visitor.  What if there was a user interface that could silence an unwanted user without them knowing their comments and replies are no longer visible to others.  Yes.  This technique is available.  It’s a good way to restore order on the site and maybe even teach the bad actor a good lesson, without deleting his account.

These three techniques should make for a good start in designing useable social interfaces.  We encourage you to explore further, and post comments about your own discoveries and ideas about the topic.


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