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Designing for Ongoing Participation

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We’ve all heard, or lived, the fact that relationships are something like a fairy tail at the beginning. Everything is so pretty. Couples are getting to know each other, everything is new and exciting. But when that’s over, what’s left? Hopefully a relationship of trust, stability and happiness. But we all know that’s not as simple as it sounds.

When you’re building a website that’s usually what you’re looking for: a relationship built through ongoing participation. We all know that’s one of the hardest things to do and one of the main reasons why so many businesses fail. Joshua Porter, in his book Designing for the Social Web, wrote a chapter about designing for ongoing participation.

What do you need when the momentum is over?

Answer: Motivation

Yes, that was an easy answer. Unfortunately that’s not the right question to ask. You should be asking yourself: “What really motivates my users?” And that, my friend, it’s a hard question to answer.

What makes us feel unique?

Answer: Having an identity

It is about profiles. But it’s not only about enabling personalisation. It’s much more about allowing people to interact with others through those profiles and being flexible. The information needs to change, otherwise the profiles won’t be interesting anymore. Facebook has done a great job here by introducing notification, status and news feeds. But what I love about what Joshua says is that “managing profiles isn’t itself a reason for an application to exist. If managing profiles is the only activity your social app is supporting, you probably won’t last long.”

How to make people contribute?

Answer: By leveraging reciprocity

“Reciprocity means exchange for mutual benefit”, says Joshua. It’s pretty simple. When people benefit from other’s contribution, they will be willing to contribute as well. Once they relate, they quickly understand the reason to do it. It’s important that the interface allows this to happen without much effort, it needs to feel natural. In the book Josh uses Linkedin’s example of recommendations. “Browsing the site makes this abundantly clear — many of the recommendations are indeed reciprocated.” It’s about returning the favour.

How to get an accurate impression of someone else?

Answer: Allow for reputation

“A person’s reputation is the set of beliefs or opinions that others hold about them. We each have a reputation, even if it is a small one.”

Designing the features that allow for reputation depend on the type of community you’re building. Remember, you don’t want to allow negative reputation, so focus on the good and simple things. Common features are – number of friends/fans/followers, ratings,  recommendations, likes, etc.

It’s also interesting when the application itself contributes. Foursquare does this extremely well by using the ‘Superuser status’. This is given to users who have checked-in a lot or added lots of new venues. It’s a nice way to show the user you are paying attention and giving something in return – reputation.

What to do so users feel productive?

Answer: Promote a sense of efficacy

Users need to feel they are actually doing something. The worse feeling is going to work and not do anything the whole day. You are still getting paid, but you feel crap. It’s the same here, it can be lots of fun to look at other profiles and see what the others are doing, but if you’re not contributing it’s less fun and you’re more likely to get bored.

The sense of efficacy can easily come from reputation, it’s the “feedback provided to people about how valuable their contribution was”. You need to make sure the users know when they are contributing and how much they have contributed in the past. Twitter does a good job by saying how many tweets you’ve sent, your personal timeline is a good way to keep track of that.

So…

Designing for ongoing participation is about allowing for basic motivations – identity, uniqueness, reciprocity, reputation, efficacy, control, ownership, attachment to a group, and fun. You need to clearly outline a mix of these motivations in the features you design so users won’t lose the interest and hopefully, keep coming back.

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Written by Cristina Dresch

February 5, 2012 at 12:02 AM

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