The Real Life Social Network

Fascinating presentation: “The Real Life Social Network,” by Paul Adams, who works on the User Experience team at Google.

That's a Flash version of the presentation, showing slides along with presenter notes; no audio. There are 224 slides, so it takes a while to go through, but most of the slides are illustrations and diagrams, and the notes are brief, so it goes relatively quickly. The presentation was created back in April or so, and updated a couple months later.

(Side note: Yes, I find his use of the term “girl” near the beginning of the presentation irritating. I'll drop him a note about that, and about my other comments below.)

One reason that I mostly like this presentation is that it touches on a bunch of the stuff I wrote about a couple years ago in an entry about social networking sites and “friending”; still, I feel like the presentation doesn't go far enough in some directions.

For example:

  • He talks about real-life groups of friends being completely separate from each other, whereas for me there's a fair bit of overlap among my real-life groups.
  • Perhaps relatedly, he says that stories of trying to get two groups to interact (at parties or online or whatever) “never end well.” On the contrary, I fairly often find that they do end well. It's often hard to get separate groups to mix at a party, but when it does work, it's great. And one thing I like about Facebook and blogging is that my friends from different groups can see each other's comments on my posts. I may be wrong about how well or often this works, but I like it.
  • For me, there's lots of variation in my degree (and kind) of closeness to different people within any given group. Slide 87 and the ones following it do address this, but I feel like it's still missing some subtlety.
  • In particular, the idea of “strong” and “weak” ties seems too simplistic to me. See the paragraph in my 2008 entry that starts “I think most people have social interactions that aren't easy to characterize.”
  • Slide 196 suggests that people usually check with friends before posting photos on Facebook. That surprised me, because I know very few people who check before posting photos publicly—most people I know either post photos publicly without checking, or don't post photos publicly at all. I usually check, but checking is a complicated and time-consuming enough process that I more often just don't post photos of people publicly. (Hey, Facebook and Picasa Web Albums and MobileMe and SmugMug and Flickr! This would be a great feature! Allow posting a private album to a group of friends, and give the photographer the option to allow the people in the photos to click to allow the photos to appear publicly!)

A couple of bits I particularly like:

Slide 138 is the most important one for designers: know your audience, design primarily for a particular type/level of “friendship”/tie. Good point.

Slide 180 is also important: people have different facets to identity.

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