Live Blogging: Josh Porter on Effective Social Interface Design

Josh Porter, has blogged about social design for 7-8
years. Is lead designer for, a next generation social network.
In August he started his own design company to design interfaces that
focus on enabling people to talk to each other. Main issues: how do
you get people to engage with your site. How do you get them to sign
up? He’s had clients who got Techcrunched, had a spike, and then over
time they all leak out. How to provide value over the long term?

Five principles:
1. The Lesson. Delicious let you have bookmarks and access
them everywhere. You could tag bookmarks, adding your own comments.
Tagging was new back then. Designers talked about subverting
hierarchical structures and folksonomies. But people were just saving
bookmarks for later. I tell all my clients: "Personal value precedes
network value" or social value. These are great tools even if your
friends don’t use them. I ask: is your service/software valueable even
if no one else uses it. The Delicious popular page has huge social
value, but it started with the personal value of people saving
bookmarks for later.

2. Tie Behavior to Identify. Profiles support identity; but not all
social software is about a profile. customer reviews: some
have real names, some are by "A Customer". Subtle distinction. EBay
feedback profile may be the best one to look at, sometimes we overlook
what Amazon and eBay do, but they aggregate feedback about each
seller–even though you don’t know who they are, you know how trusted
they are. On eBay you only need to know behavior, not who they are.

3. Give Recognition. Example: top Diggers. It showed who was most
successful for getting their stories to the home page. People started
seeing this as a competition. They all friended each other and helped
each other get top diggs. The top diggers ended up kind of controlling
the home page. So I talked with Daniel Barka, lead interface designer
at Digg, and I asked him if they had a problem with users gaming the
system; he said no, that’s what the interface let’s you do. Early on,
this was great for the growth of Digg. But once they hit the
mainstream and had enough users to support it, they removed the Top
Diggers feature. I’ve never worked on a project where anything was

Recognition seems to work better when it comes from the group and
isn’t permanent. One problem with Top Diggers was that once you got to
the top it was easy to stay there, since top diggs were cumulative.
Made it hard for new users to break in.

Threadless also does this well. They have competitions like Digg, but
any recognition ends. Don’t make everything cumulative.

4. Show Causation. You want to provide options for action and feedback
when they take an action. In the "old days" the screen would go white
as you had a page refresh. Now with ajax you see spinny things showing
something has happened. When someone is rating a movie on Netflix, you
need to show them something is happening. They are excellent at this.
The more you rate movies, the better their suggestions are. On one
screen he shows how it mentions like 5 times where they show causation
of what they are doing. I tell clients this, and they say, "don’t they
already know this?" People know to stop at intersections, but we still
give them signs.

"Rate your recent return" is like a game: waiting for your rating. Makes it fun.

5. Leveraging Reciprocity. I have worked on ratings and review sites.
Clients ask me, why do people leave reviews? Are they altruists? I say
no. I don’t think we ask people know why they do this. I interviewed
people. They didn’t immediately know. So I asked, why do you leave
reviews on Yelp. They say, "I don’t want anyone to eat at a place that
doesn’t have good food, make the same mistake that I did." So that’s
altruism. They always also add, I like to see how many people read my
reviews; I like compliments and tips. So there are many reasons why
people do reviews. They say, I get a ton of value from what others do.

On LinkedIn, where one of my good friends works, there are remarkable
stats on reciprocation when someone writes a positive review for you,
it is often reciprocated.

These are the five principles, there are many more. I just finished a
book on this, coming out in a month or two.

Q. Amazon top reviewers are also cumulative.
A. Hariet Clouser (sic) is top reviewer on Amazon, with over 14,000
book reviews. I did the math. She reads and reviews 7 books a day. She
is one of the most hated people. I blogged about this: is she real?
Many bloggers came and said, she can’t be. Amazon now does both
quantity and quality of reviewers. The rankings are being weighted by
helpful/not helpful more than by just quantity. If you read Harriet’s
reviews, you’ll notice they are a lot like the back of a book–so
she’s not for real. So quality of review is now getting rewarded more.

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In San Francisco for SnapSummit 2.0

I’m looking forward to hearing keynotes from Dave Morin, Senior Platform Manager at Facebook and Jim Benedetto, VP Technology at MySpace, as well as from 20 or so panelists who are succeeding with their social networking applications and investments. My last major dose of social networking content from industry insiders came at CES in January where I attended (and then bought mp3 recordings) of virtually every session on widgets and social networking. When I went to order my mp3 recordings, they just copied all the ones I wanted onto a thumb drive and gave them to me. It was the first conference where I have purchased the audio that way–very cool.

I am starting to see more and more how social networking will completely change the world of genealogy. Very few genealogists use social networks today, but that will change. One interesting fact that you can discover using Facebook Ads ( is that there are more people over 50 in Canada using Facebook than there are people over 50 in the U.S. using Facebook. Since genealogists tend to be older, the power of social networks won’t become evident to the 15+ million genealogists in the U.S. until more and more of them embrace social networks. But what they really need is a social network designed for genealogy. is a close to launching our first feature that could make this social network essential for all serious genealogists. It’s a feature that has never been tried before on a massive scale. We are excited to roll it out.

What is interesting to me is that ever since last week when I blogged about 10% time, and as I have been contacting relatives and gathering information about my own ancestors, I now view everything that we are doing at FamilyLink and WorldVitalRecords through the lens of "how will this help me and my family with our genealogy?"

Just this morning, as the sun is rising on "my city by the bay", I had two breakthrough ideas that I think could be implemented quite easily that would make my life so much easier. I want to find my ancestors and connect with my relatives who have already gathered so much information about them. A social networking concept that is becoming more popular but has not been applied to genealogy would really help me out. 

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10% time

Last week I listened for the third time to Marissa Mayer’s amazing
talk at Stanford about Google’s culture of innovation. (I can’t link
to it right now. I’m blogging from my blackberry.) She lists the top 9
reasons that Google is innovative.

One of them, of course, is that every Google engineer gets to work on
their own pet project for 20% of the time. Marissa says that in the
second half of 2005, 50% of the products Google introduced came from
20% time.

Another was that "ideas come from everywhere," including customers,
employees, senior management, and through acquisitions.

Clearly Google folks are encouraged not only to have ideas but to
share them and to pursue them.

That is a very different culture from most companies I’ve ever seen,
where few people are energized with new ideas, and those that have
great ideas are often frustrated by politics or lack of resources to
the point where they have no hope that their ideas will be heard or

Also last week two things happened that struck me personally. First, a
genealogist ribbed me good naturedly after my keynote speech Friday at

He said, "why can’t we get you guys (meaning those of us who run
genealogy internet companies) to do genealogy yourselves so that you
know what we need you to build for us."

I defended myself by saying, "but you heard me say that I’ve read
2,000 pages about genealogy sources in the past year–I’m really
trying to do better this time around." (After I started I
focused for 6 years on strategy and internet marketing and did very
little genealogy reading.)

"But reading about genealogy, and doing genealogy are two very
different things," he chided.

Later that day I came across a blog post from last September
complaining that I was travelling so much and blogging so little that
I might get out of touch with the needs of genealogists. The blogger
wished out loud that Dick Eastman could be the CEO of a genealogy
internet company so that it would be sure to do all the right things.

Both of these comments stung me. They have been haunting me all weekend.

So I decided to do something about it. I really want our company to
make genealogy easier for millions of people. And I really want to
create a Google-like culture of innovation and ideas. (One of the
reasons I left Ancestry in 2002 is that the culture of innovation had

We have a huge amount of data online and much more coming, thanks to
many content partners, but we need to make sure every feature of our
web site is easy to find and easy to use. We need to make it easier to
search by country, by database, by family. We need to address the user
experience to start to finish.

Like Google, who launches alpha (Google Labs) and beta versions of
their products before they are really ready, we have shown a
willingness to put new features up as quickly as we can.

But Google immediately seeks feedback from their huge customer base,
measures it, and then iterates as quickly as possible to make the user
experience better.

I know we can do a better job of seeking input from customers and
iterating more quickly until we get the product right.

And I know that if we take the time to use our own products
continually, that we will have more insights about how to improve the
user experience.

So, today I am announcing 10% time for all employees at

I am asking every full time employee in the company to spend 10% of
their paid time working on their own family history. This includes
researching, collaborating, preserving, and sharing. It means using
our web sites and other software and web sites as well.

I will commit to do the same.

In addition, I am asking each employee to document the frustrations
and obstacles they encounter along the way. And whenever they have an
idea about how to improve something to jot it down.

I will regularly review the top ideas that are submitted by each employee.

As Marissa Mayer kept a list of the top 100 personal projects under
way at Google, I will keep a running list of the top 100 best ideas
for improving the online experience in family history.

To determine the best ideas, I may use my own subjective judgment or
have a few advisors review them with me, or maybe even rely upon the
"wisdom of the crowds" and use customer surveys to gather votes.

Each month, I will award bonuses to the employees who submitted the best ideas.

Once we have this structure in place, I’d like to open it up to our
customers as well, and reward them for taking the time to tell us how
we can improve our services.

Our company is here to stay. We are feeling the financial and moral
support of tens of thousands of genealogists who want us to succeed.
We have sufficiently matured to move out of the frenetic start-up
phase of our business, where maybe we sometimes cut corners or moved
too quickly or recklessly, to a more thoughtful and careful stage
where we can really understand customer needs and improve the user

And a major part of that stage will be doing genealogy ourselves every week.

I know my whole family would be thrilled if we can learn more about
Charles Allen, my distant ancestor on the Allen line. He shows up in
New Hampshire in 1635 and we don’t know where he came from. I now
believe that we are most likely to get a clue about his origins by
doing DNA testing and finding some related Allens in the UK.

But whether or not we can find Charles, I have thousands of known
ancestors to learn more about, and new ancestors and living relatives
to discover.

I’m excited to get started.

And I know the ideas for improving the customer experience are really
going to start flowing.

Sent from Gmail for mobile |

Paul Allen
CEO, / World Vital Records

office: 801-377-0588
mobile: 801-376-2738

FamilyLink: connecting families fastest growing genealogy community in the world

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