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Monday, August 06, 2007

What Most Social Networks Do That People Hate ...

I sign up for a lot of social networks.  Part of my job involves reviewing new sites and knowing what is being launched and as a result I end up signing up for 2-3 new sites a week.  Of course, I don't actively use all those sites - but for those that I have signed up for recently, as well as the dozen or so that I do actually use, they all seem to make the same mistakes.  I had a conversation this past week about some of these choices and it turns out I'm not alone in my frustration.  So if you are launching a social network, or have some input into making one better, here are just a few of the things that people hate.  Avoid them and you're already on your way to standing above more than a few of the social networks being launched out there. 

  1. Pretending users don't belong to other networks. If you sold breakfast cereal, would you believe that your customers would just walk into a store, buy your cereal and walk out?  Of course not.  People belong to multiple networks and yours is just one of them.  If you really want to stand out, offer them a way to integrate their experience and take a page from online retail.  When I hit - I can log in with my username and password.  If they can use the same data, so can you.
  2. Creating custom email messages and inboxes. Just about every social network does this.  When I get a message in Facebook, I get a useless link that tells me I have a message.  To read it, I need to click on the link.  We are all used to email.  Just figure out a way to send us an email with the details when something happens.  When someone comments on a blog post, I get an email from Typepad with the full comment.  That's useful.  Having to access ten sites every day to pick up custom messages isn't.
  3. Forgetting about basic usability. Many social networks do many things, and they are usually designed for many uses.  Basic usability is the one thing that gets left behind.  MySpace has the most confusing navigation and design since dotcom retail sites in 2000.  Facebook has secret links that are impossible to navigate to (like when you have friend requests and you are logged in and can't find where to accept them). lets you join lots of networks, but I haven't yet found a way to easily navigate back and forth between the many networks I belong to.  These are common tasks and users are having trouble with them.  To improve, social networks should take a page from online retail sites and learn how to rework their interface for the key calls to action.  If that's too hard, just sit and watch 2-3 relatively new users struggle to navigate their way through your site.  You'll get a list of issues to fix out of that, I promise.
  4. Forcing unnecessary data collection. When first joining a social network, there is nothing worse than being forced to fill out an endless form with all sorts of data that they don't need and you don't want to give.  Just ask me for a username, password and email (ok, and age if you're afraid teenagers might infiltrate your network).  The rest can come later, if I actually like and start using your network.

Anything else you want to tell your social network?  Let's all collaborate and make them less painful together.


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some (if not most) pages on myspace takes AGES to load just because of all the "customization" that a person does, put a limit or something(endless pictures/videos/music/glitters/computers crashing!

One of the reasons why I prefer Facebook to Myspace is the loading time and "not so heavy" pages.

I have to agree with every point, great post! I also agree with the load time comment and would like to add the absolute rage I get when I finally navigate through MySpace to post a bulletin or worse an event and then an error occurs making me start the process all over again. This has happened so many times that when Facebook allowed apps I all but abandoned MySpace.

Hi Rohit - I'm with you overall and have a slight spin on the first two points. I think some users might want to split their own personas and could benefit from aligning networks to sites. E.g. University/Facebook, Professional/LinkedIn, Entertainment/MySpace. Of course a slick option would be to enable/disable permissions all on the same network so you'd only have one profile to manage. Custom inboxes - lots of value to this, the biggest being that a message actually gets delivered. Easier to scrawl on a wall, but sometimes a direct message is warranted.

I wonder if people like us who don't sign up for so many social networks have the same reaction?

Give me a widget for your social network that i can integrate into my custom home page. Don't expect me or ask me to log into your site every day. That's like going to this blog every day rather than reading it through a feeder. I'd never get anything done.

Give me new ways to navigate my social networks. I think we are past the Web 1.0 page structure by now, aren't we? If I have a network that looks more like a web than a timeline, why don't I have the option of looking at it that way. 3D would be nice as well...I want to move through my network much like an asteroid moves through a solar system.

To your point on cereal, someone is going to make big bucks when they figure out how to build a meta social network. Much like the meta travel sites that aggregate everyting from Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity, a meta social network will cut a huge chunk of daily traffic to most sites thus downgrading their ad revenue models. Down with the walled gardens.

Hi Rohit,

great observations from a users perspective! We will definitely try to follow those ideas for the social network we are developping at the moment.

Regarding the second point: The rationale behind sending links to email (like with abbrevated news feeds) is exactly to keep users logging into the site as it will – no matter if you track pageviews or logintime – increase your site's advertising prices. But it very true that many users dont like it and it is and important trade-off to consider.

As the first objective must be to make your users happy and probably the second to show potential advertisers/partners/etc. how many happy and active users you have maybe we need other ways of measuring user activity like using email "reading notifications". So you could put all the relevant info into the email, the user would only have to acknowledge the receipt and with the backlink you could proof that your user has actually read it?!

Cheers from Europe

Well said. One thing that your post hints at is that there will need to be a great cleansing of social networking sites at some point. Not now certainly, as we're still on the upward arch, but in 12 months or slightly less.

We're going to see the winners and losers, and there will be many more users. Social networks don't thrive on better construction, they thrive on having more users. Those that don't "tip" will surely die, and some folks are going to lose some serious coin when it happens.

Ever notice how many of the same people you network with are in other networks and inviting you to join them in that network? I did a simple analysis of common people I am connected to in different networks. Ready? 65% of my network is also networked with me in other networks! What is the point?

The value of a relationship is not driven by how many networks your networking with them produces rather it is simply the fact that they are part of your network. Yet if your networked with the same people in different networks what is the expected value advantage? What product comes from being networked with the same people in different networks? Are we simply playing tag but in different neighborhoods?

Technology creates different expectations and maybe we think one platform is better at enhancing our relationships yet when we don’t stop and think about defining the cost benefit of networking with the same people in different networks. If a relationship starts out on Linkedin and is extended to Facebook, Xing, Ning, Viadeo, Ecademy etc. etc. what additional value does that really bring us individually as well as collectively? The cost of can be considerable. Time, attention, distractions keeping up with approving “friends” through different networks, emails, notification and the list goes on… you feel the pain?

One may argue that my relationships are enhanced because a different network enables me to share more media with my friends, more information sharing capability, expanded profiles of my friends capabilities, more groups of topical discussions etc etc. One may also ask how many different physical social clubs to you join with the same friends? How many golf clubs are you a member of in which you golf with the same people? How many different churches are you a member of in which you fellowship with the same people? Am I crazy and missing a significant point about the value of networking with the same people on different networks? Show me the value so I may keep my sanity and justify my time and effort.

In my previous postings, “Show Me The Money“,, “The Paradox of Choice” at, “The Attention Factor” at and a host of others I’ve addressed factors that collectively are resulting from the proliferation of all this networking with different networks. The current state of the networking market can be categorized as “Chaotic” and the Chaos Theories have long been established and proven:

In mathematics and physics, chaos theory describes the behavior of certain nonlinear dynamical systems that under specific conditions exhibit dynamics that are sensitive to initial conditions. As a result of this sensitivity, the behavior of chaotic systems appears to be random, because of an exponential growth in the initial conditions. This happens even though these systems are deterministic in the sense that their future dynamics are well defined by their initial conditions, and there are no random elements involved. This behavior is known as deterministic chaos, or simply chaos.

So scientifically there may be some order in all this chaos but I am looking forward to the future dynamics that shape the chaos into better meaning and value for me and my network. This will be the tipping point for the Relationship Economy.

What say you?

I should think the technology for meta networks would be simple...couldn't one just use XML and RSS to shoot out information from one main source? The trick is to get other networks on board...

My pet peeve? Being called a "friend" by some random stranger who decided to add me to their "friends." If someone wants to add me to some list to be able to find my page or site, great, but don't call unreciprocated adds "friends." The word "friend" should have some reserved status that suggests the people on the list actually know and like you.

Interesting article, and I agree with showing the details of a message if it is to be sent in the first place rather then using it as bait.

Rohit Bhargava: and all the commenters (mostly) are bashing the largest social networks out there. You can speak negatively about Facebook & MySpace all you like but they're still winning the game. Give us examples of what the loosers are doing purhaps in an effort of showing what they're doing wrong, as annoying as it may be; the examples you've given are weak considering that they are for websites that dominate the market.

And for the rest of the comments... 3D sounds like a great idea except the computer screen is a very 2d display right now don't expext that to change anytime soon. If you're talking about a 3D world for the social network you've wasted your typing... it already exist it's called Second Life.

Hope you guys enjoy'd the ranting but seriously analize your comments and statements before coming out and looking like a fool with an opinion.

On Facebook (sorry Thomas), you should be able to receive an notice when someone starts a forum on a group you joined. Presently, you have to hop onto a group's site and look down to the forum area to see if anything was started. Doesn't help the communication AT ALL. And it devalues the very idea of have groups in the first place.

Wow. Great information regarding Social networking sites. As far as I know, social networking sites are used for building and verifying the online sites for communication. Normally people come to you saying that there sites are not getting posted what is the reason then say the following reasons. Really good.

Hey Rohit,

I thought you might be interested in our Free Gig Booking/Talent & Venue micro social network. We just recently had our grand opening!

Don't hesitate to contact me.


Colin S. Wood

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