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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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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Venture Capital in the Rockies Wrapup

I’m at the Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado today for the Venture
Capital in the Rockies event.

20 startup and growth companies, including 14 from Colorado and 4 from
Utah are here to present business plans to 200-300 venture capitalists
from 8 states. Our company,, was selected as a
presenter. We each get 15 minutes and then 5-10 minutes of Q&A.

Here is a brief rundown of the presenters:

– Albeo Technologies (Colorado) markets solid-state lighting systems
based on white light-emitted diode (LED) technology. Lighting accounts
for 40% of all electricity consumption in the commercial market. Have
raised $1.55 million in two rounds of funding.

– Altela (New Mexico) has raised $10 million to develop a new
energy-reuse water desalination product that operates at remote
locations such as oil and gas wells.

– AVA Solar (Colorado) was spun out of Colorado State University. They
have "perfected a robust, industrial-scale, continuous process for
producing solar photo-voltaic modules at an industry-leading
manufacturing cost below $1 per watt. The market for solar PV is
large, growing rapidly, and currently hampered by a significant supply
shortage. Growing at a 46% CAGR since the late 1990s, the market is
projected to be 23 gigawatts, or $40-60 billion by 2012.

– Control4 (Utah) has raised a total of $80 million in funding since
inception to create a platform for the digital home. An estimated 38
million households are potential customers for Control who have
installed or plan to install home theaters, plasma TVs, LCD Flat Panel
TVs, big screen TVs, intercom, lighting control, security system,
structured wiring, digital or media PC, surround sound, and MP3
playback through stereo.

– DAZ Productions (Utah) provides easy to use 3D software and
ultra-high quality 3D models and accessories. They operate the social marketplace. Have been funded by Highway12
Ventures. $10 million in revenue in 2007; raised more than $4 million
last year. They have a huge opportunity in social networks, online
gaming, and virtual worlds.

– (Utah) runs a genealogy subscription web site with
more than 25,000 paying customers. has nearly 1
billion searchable names online with 2.5 billion more in the pipeline.
Genealogists pay $49 to $149 per year for access to these databases. also builds social networking applications for familes,
with more than 2.8 million users of its We’re Related app on Facebook.
(I’m presenting this company as its CEO.)

– Filtrbox (Colorado) has raised more than $400,000 from angel
investors. They provide filters and alerts for knowledge workers who
want to monitor news, blogs, and other content sources. They had 250
beta invitations available today, and I was excited to get one.

– Format Dynamics (Colorado) has raised $4.4 million from NY angels.
They turn printed internet pages into a revenue opportunity for web
sites by providing magazine quality formatting and by inserting
dynamic ads onto the pages. Third party research shows 61.2 billion
internet pages were printed last year.

– Go Fast Sports and Beverage Company (Colorado) creates a great
tasting energy drink. The company is listed as one of the top 100
Beverage Companies in the world the past three years.

– HiveLive (Colorado) has raised $2.2 m in angel investment and closed
a $5.6 million venture round last week. They provide solutions to
companies who want to create their own social media applications or
customer communities.

– ISONAS Security (Colorado) was founded in 1999 and provides IP based
Access Control enable by a true network appliance.

– Newmerix (Colorado) had bookings of $4.74 million last year, more
than double 2006. They are the leading provider of automated
application lifecycle management solutions for SAP, PeopleSoft, and
Oracle E-Business Suite.

– Nilar has raised $11 million to date. They produce advanced bipolar
nickel metal hydride batteries for large format applications,
including hybrid vehicles.

– ProStor (Colorado) has raised $23.4 million in two rounds. They are
the leading supplier of removable disk solutions for data protection,
long-term archive, and compliance applications.

– Socialthing, Inc (Colorado) has raised $375,000 to date. They let
social networkers consolidate all their popular social websites into a
single interface, including on mobile phones.

– Tendril Network (Colorado) has raised more than $8 million in
funding to bring energy efficiency to the energy industry.

– WBS Connect (Colorado) is owned by its two founders. It had revenus
of $6.4 million in 2006 and $18.5 million in 2007. They provide high
bandwidth IP-based telecommunications services.

– Yieldex (San Mateo, CA) is backed by Sequel Ventures, First Round
Capital, and Woodside Fund. They have unique technology to analyze and
allocate online ad inventory, increasing yield by 10-40%. Focus is
yield optimization. Very impressive management team. CEO founded
NetGravity in 1995.

– Zayo Group has raised $225 million in equity and $140 million in
debt to do a roll-up of broadband fiber optic networks. They will have
revenue of $160 million and EBITDA of $45 in CY2008.

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50 topics I wish I had blogged about

I keep a Google doc called Blog Ideas. I have added a few dozen ideas to it in the last few months, and haven’t gotten around to blogging about very many of them. Right now, I’m looking at the Google doc on my new iphone (Google applications work beautifully on the iphone). Here are some of the blog ideas that I would have blogged about if I had more time:

  • Record page views the last two days on
  • My new Amazon Kindle: I love it!
  • The new $20 cell phone from India
  • A video of my Nov. 6th lecture at BYU about having a Second Chance in the "connecting families" business
  • The Scrabulous incident on Facebook and a blog post that linked to a US gov’t web site about how games are not copyrightable
  • Wall Street Journal coverage of
  • Analytics tools for Facebook apps
  • The launch of the new World Collection from
  • Quantcast’s $20 million in new funding: this company will be very disruptive in the online advertising space, imo
  • DEMO 2008
  • renewable energy grants
  • Facebook Beacon
  • Google Presentations
  • launch

There were actually a total of 50 items in my Blog Ideas doc that I haven’t taken time to blog about.

I keep hoping I can find more time to blog. I keep thinking, "maybe when we’re cash flow positive."

I recently switched my blog site from WordPress to Drupal, with the help of an IT consultant. The way my site has been set up will make it more SEO friendly, and it should also be easier for me to insert images, and to email blog posts without errors. Drupal is a very robust content management system used by some major web sites.

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Yahoo Go on my Blackberry

I switched to GMail about 2 years ago, but I have kept my Yahoo email account around so it can forward everything automatically to GMail.

But today, because of Jerry Yang’s CES Keynote, which makes it clear that Yahoo is going to become very friendly to third party developers, and because Yahoo Mail still has more users (I think) than GMail, I decided that I would download Yahoo Go! to my Blackberry, and start using YahooMail again, so I can keep my feet in both camps.

My company email will still be GMail based, but I’ve got a ton of contacts in Yahoo that I never transferred to GMail, and there are a lot of Yahoo Mail users that I could instant message with, from the 7-8 years that I did use Yahoo Mail as my primary email account.

The Yahoo Go features on my blackberry are very impressive, but a little less intuitive for me than all the Google applications that I have on my blackberry. Yahoo installs everything as one app. Google has about 8 or 10 icons on my blackberry, and their Mobile Application updater just automatically updates their apps for me. I can delete the ones I don’t want. So in terms of taking over my blackberry real estate, the Google strategy is much better than Yahoo’s.

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