Adrian Cahill- 41223370
Introduction and Focus
I am normally a quite private person but manage to keep a basic Facebook profile to communicate with friends and family; which is not an unusual situation (see fig 1). In terms of this reflection it is important to keep this in mind when considering my perspective on features and experiences as they would undoubtedly be different from those of a person that has more experience with (and inclination to use) such programs and sites.
The purpose of social software (from the perspective of the example sites listed below) can be thought of as primarily to achieve a certain communication goal; such as shouting your immediate thoughts or posting pictures from a recent holiday. From the viewpoint of a user of these types of social networks, the cost of the time and effort entered into the system versus the benefits of increased social connectivity and the achievement of certain communication goals must be weighed.
Given this, the main article intends to inspect the profit gained by social networking sites, measured by increased social connectivity and happiness, whilst considering the time and energy requirements required to maintain them. I intend to show how for a basic user such as myself, there is a disparity of work and benefit when maintaining a large number of separate, specialised social network profiles on different sites and that given this background; it is a superior practice to maintain a smaller number of sites with a greater number of more simplified applications. This is justified with an example showing that with the increase in the number of applications used; a user is restricted to communicating in less detail or less frequently then would be desirable. A contrasting example is also shown where I have been required to communicate in more detail which is used to explain that the simplest solution is not necessarily the best, and that a balance is needed for optimal use of social software to occur.
The following sites are used as examples of social software that achieve particular communication goals:
Flickr is a photo and video sharing website, but does include some social aspects such as adding friends and organising groups to form networks. Adding photos and videos is an easy task in this program though I found little reason to do so other than to distribute large numbers of photos to family and friends simultaneously. Regardless it requires very little maintenance
One important difference with using Flickr over grouped social sites such as Facebook is that you can view uploaded images/video without having an account with the site, which is important if you wish to reach an audience outside of people you personally know (or otherwise have social connections to).
Blogger performs a function which is really quite self-explanatory; it allows you to blog. In a social context, people can read, comment, co-author and manage blogs but it is a simple concept for a simple application. However I can see no real reason for maintaining a blog on this site for social reasons, other sites with blogging capabilities (such as Facebook) have vastly greater social capabilities.
Twitter provides an outlet for your simplest, instinctively posted thoughts and has grown a reputation as being an ungodly waste of time and energy, attracting people to “randomly brag about their unexceptional lives” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN2HAroA12w). While this is the sort of communication I use social networking sites for most, having a profile that only does this seems unnecessarily inefficient.
Yahoo pipes- http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/
This site can be used to fiddle with feeds from other sites. It can be considered a way to organise data rather than having a social aspect. It is mentioned because when combined with the previous example sites it provides very similar functionality to Facebook (described below), however it is not examined in any great detail.
Facebook is the social networking site I am most familiar with, and is used throughout this reflection as an example of a site that performs a (very) large number of generic functions to its users. The sites main purpose is to form social networks alone, and this is represented well by the features it uses to link people together such as a tool that displays your friends-friends in a very 6 degrees-esque fashion. All tools easy to use (around 85% stating ease-of-use to be easy or very easy ) and readily approachable; asserting the success of the site.
I use this site to stay in contact with friends and family. I can choose to do this by making short comments on my mood (like twitter), blog posts (like blogger), uploading photos or videos (like flicker) as well as many other things that are the sole focus of other sites. In addition to this, applications can be installed to extend the functionality even further. It takes very little of my time to keep this site up to date and that is quite important in the context of this article.
It should be noted that when I discuss Facebook throughout this reflection, I refer to sites with grouped social software as a whole, not just this site alone. There are many other sites that are based on a similar premise such as Myspace or Bebo that can be used almost interchangeably, just as there are alternatives to the other examples. I refer to Facebook specifically as it is the program to which I am, as stated earlier, most familiar.
“Products should include both the functional pragmatic aspects as well as the positive ‘emotional’ and ‘hedonic’ user experiences to be successful”. This is the balance that is the main focus of this article. While maintaining websites for social reasons, a person should both be able to achieve communication goals and enjoy the experience at the ratio they choose. For me, that involved simplifying the ways in which I communicate through these sites, discussed below.
The first, most obvious comment to deal with is that maintaining a simpler portfolio of social profiles is that it is easier and more time efficient then maintaining multiple profiles across multiple websites. Also, assuming that each site has separate passwords for security, the added headache of remembering login details (including changing passwords on a regular basis) can get out of hand if you want to achieve anything more than the most simplistic of goals with basic security; however many are known to forgo security in the sake of ease of use. However, a perspective often overlooked is the sheer quantity of data that would need to be processed from multiple sources which I have experienced at my expense.
Over the internet in the past, email had been widely used as the primary source of communication. With the advent of social software however this has changed dramatically in recent years (see fig 2) and I have personally experienced a large increase in the amount of information I have to process on a regular basis. At one point I was maintaining simultaneous profiles on MSN (Hotmail, messenger, games), Gmail (email, groups and other posting sites), Yahoo (games and as a junk mail box, UQ (email, Sinet and all the other lovely applications), Facebook, Photobucket (similar to Flickr), several MMORPG accounts, Twitter, a blog and with the digitisation of many company’s help desks, various bank, insurance and with other mundane businesses. I am not a social person and have known people that maintain many more.
Fig 2- 2007-2008 Internet population ratings (Nielsen Online’s ‘Member Community’ category includes both social networking and blogging websites)
It eventually got to the point where I simply did not have the time to check all accounts and update all my details. I lost contact with relatives and old school friends, some accounts even became inactive and a major reason for this is that I was simply unable to maintain them effectively. The only answer I could find was to simplify; restricting myself to single accounts that provide multiple features. For instance Facebook can cover social networking, blogging, twittering and picture and video uploads, while a MSN email account can cover personal email, a login for Google Groups and reluctantly a junk mail inbox. Of course comes at a cost of lessened functionality, and restricts the amount of people that can view your information, but I did not need the features I lost which is the idea behind this article.
The end result is that that I now am in regular contact with friends and family, and I am not stressed by the amount of work I have to do to keep my social networking applications up to date.
Facebook, as described above, provides all of the basic functionality of the example applications, so the question is why would people use these alternatives at all?
Take another personal experience as an example, my needs of social software are usually small, yet recently I needed to distribute a sizeable (over 500 Mb) amount of photos and videos to a group of friends and family. Now it should be obvious enough by now that I favour Facebook, but most of the people in this group did not have an account, which would mean that they would have to sign up, and add me as a friend; which I doubted many would bother to actually do for such little perceived benefit. The functionality I needed, however, could be filled by Flickr, which allows direct linking to the stream of photos without logging in. This way both people using and not using Facebook could view these, which is an example of when user needs are exceeded, needs which can be filled by other, more detailed programs and which is the exact opposite of simplifying.
It can be seen that specialised use cases can arise when the simplified needs of a basic user are exceeded and additional functionality is required to perform a more specific goal. However this need is in conflict with the initial need for greater simplicity in the methods of communication within social networks. While these two examples contrast the need for simplicity, with the need for functionality, they also show that there is no clean, absolute solution to this problem. As the needs of a user change, so does the amount of effort they are willing and able to provide to this form of communication. Providing a solution to these competing problems is far beyond the scope of this reflection, it is merely meant as a discussion of the problems operating in this environment presents. It is left as an exercise to the reader to find a happy medium for themselves.
 Lampe, C., Ellison, N., Steinfield, C. (2006) A face(book) in the crowd: social Searching vs. social browsing, Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work, Table 2, p3
 Hart, J., Ridley, C., Taher, F., Sas, C., Dix, A. (2008) Exploring the facebook experience: a new approach to usability, Proceedings of the 5th Nordic conference on Human-computer interaction: building bridges, section 3.3 p2, "Pleasure" p3
 Nielson Company (2009), Global Faces and Networked Places. Figure 1, p3