Mobile Learning Lab: Social Design 101
This past Monday, the Mobile Learning Lab was lucky enough to have Sachin Monga from Facebook come in and talk about ‘Social Design’. In the past 5 years, the term ‘social’ has spread like wildfire across borders, industries, and tech startups. But what exactly does ‘Social Design’ mean? What separates good social mobile applications from bad ones? How does Facebook think about Social Design? Thankfully, I didn’t have to answer these questions; Sachin did, thus allowing me to get more rejections on Tinder (inside joke for the attendees).
When thinking about making social applications, be it web or mobile, it’s absolutely crucial to think of the application as a space and not just a tool. Think of it this way, a tool is something you need to interact with to achieve a desired outcome (a hammer is a tool). But humans don’t necessarily need tools to communicate, we’ve been communicating for thousands of years! Rather, humans simply need spaces to communicate. Throughout history, these spaces have been city courts, parks, coffee shops, the local tavern etc. But since the birth of the internet, and now internet-connected mobile devices, humanity has been presented with a completely new space with which we can communicate with our friends, family and strangers. Facebook has done a fantastic job at realizing the opportunity the internet space has provided and a lot of it can be attributed to understanding the space vs. tool distinction.
When you think of Facebook’s core features, you can begin to see their Social Design thinking in action. Take the Newsfeed. When they released the Newsfeed, it brought huge amounts of criticism. But can you think of Facebook without Newsfeed? It’s the most popular space on the internet. It provides the easiest avenue to see what your friends are saying and doing. Do you have to interact with Facebook? No! Beyond the top blue bar, you don’t actually interact with Facebook at all.
The second thing that I took away from Sachin’s talk was the emphasis Facebook places on analyzing people. Facebook isn’t engineering centric, it’s people centric. Facebook looks at their platform through the lens of a sociologist. How do people behave on the platform? What are people doing on the platform? These are the questions you must ask yourself when analyzing a social application. Technology should be dictated by people’s actions; not the other way around.
All in all, Sachin gave us a really interesting perspective to think about when you design a social application. Next time Facebook releases a new feature, think deeper about why they are doing that, and I’d be willing to bet that it has to do with enhancing the space that they have created.