In this project, I and my colleague Shelly Farnham (Ph.D.) at Yahoo! investigate how people naturally map/model their lives in context of social media products (e.g., Facebook, Twitter).
The existing social media products underestimate people’s rich life contexts an different roles and identities. During the project at Yahoo! we did qualitative interviews with 20 participants and translated the emergent themes into concept designs.
In the interviews, we asked them to draw a map of their lives and how they communicate, segment, and transition in different facets of their lives. During the interviews, we found that people think in terms of ‘modes’, perceive themselves as consistent selves instead of personas changing identities.
Increasingly, users connecting to people from different areas of their lives through social media, especially social networks. There is also emergence of social media streams that aggregate content across networks. Models of social organization in networks carry problematic assumptions: that one identity, and one social context, fits all. This project has then two motivations. How can we best understand and leverage natural models of social organization to improve experiences of social media streams? How can we discover opportunity spaces and product ideas for organizing people, sharing and consuming content, and transitioning between identities in the social media? With these two motivations, I and my colleague at Yahoo! performed in-depth interviews to explore how people mentally model faceted identity, social circles, and transitions. We developed concept scenarios and visual metaphors, got feedback from participants to identify needs, boundaries, and desires around different areas of life. and synthesized study results to inform the design of interactive prototype for focused sharing.
The findings of the study were published and presented in CHI 2011. Here is the abstract:
Current social media products such as Facebook and Twitter have not sufficiently addressed how to help users organize people and content streams across different areas of their lives. We conducted a qualitative design research study to explore how we might best leverage natural models of social organization to improve experiences of social media. We found that participants organize their social worlds based on life ‘modes’, i.e., family, work and social. They strategically use communication technologies to manage intimacy levels within these modes, and levels of permeability through the boundaries between these modes. Mobile communication in particular enabled participants to aggregate and share content dynamically across life modes. While exploring problems with managing their social media streams, people showed a strong need for focused sharing – the ability to share content only with appropriate audiences within certain areas of life.
At the end of the study, we found the following insights:
- People have three main facets: family, work, social. Social circles, activities, interests tended to be nested within these areas of life
- People conceptualized transitioning as changing modes (vs. changing identities)
- Users crossed boundaries strategically using communication technologies
- People actively used smart phones for aggregating and sharing (TXT, FB, email)
- People showed need for focused sharing (e.g. with only one facet) online, especially if segmented facets
Here is a summary that a Korean UX lab made of my findings: