Direkt zum Inhalt Zur Suche Zum Menü

Keep up the conversation! – Patterns of Web 2.0 Design


This is the translation for an article published in t3n, a german magazin about open-source and typo3. This text is licensed under cc-by, so feel free to correct my bad english or take it to your own language.

Platforms of the Social Web do manage to involve the users, but also consist for the most of them of content produced by users or the communication of users. Within that there are patterns of design implemented, that allow and enhance participation and conversation. Here is a overview of recurring patterns, which have been called Conversational Design Patterns recently.

Conversational Design in the sense of Community Design or Design for Participation is very young as a term; there is no wikipedia article today and Google just gives you a handfull of relevent sources. Pedro Custódio brought the term to Germany with his eleborated presentation at the Berlin Web-2.0-Expo in last autumn. Design is meant here in the sense of concept and gestalt, rather than just visual appearance, while the patterns used also contain visual representation and interactive behaviour.

So a new buzzword is born, hurray. The goal behind it, may be as old as the www itself: all participants in the global web shall be acting as senders of information and take part in a digital interchange of ideas. Bertolt Brecht’s Radiotheorie [de] is often referred to as an early manifestation of this idea. Usenet, IRC, forums and newsgroups were and are expressions of this freedom within the internet. But in many cases their patterns of interaction seem to be too complex for the regular user and appear as closed communities of some secret knowledge.

The outcome of the dotcom-era of the late 1990s makes obvious that businessideas have survived that managed to integrate the users themselves. EBay is still existing on the commerce users execute amongst them. Amazon draws its early USP, the recommendation of products from the clicking and buying behaviour of their customers and gained credebility and trust from usergenerated reviews, lists and forums.

the social web
Participation is the major paradigm shift in Web 2.0.

The popularisation of the idea of users being an online-community that reads and writes is now becoming more and more apparent in services of the so called Web 2.0. The userbuild encyclopedia Wikipedia, video and photo communities like Flickr, YouTube, Sevenload or Ipernity, musicplatforms like last.fm or ilike.com, social bookmarking at MisterWong, del.icio.us, digg or StumbleuUpon, social networks like Facebook, Xing or StudiVZ are just the tip of the iceberg, well visible though.

Blogs are the most elaborate form of self-determined publication on the net, and are known now for quite a few years in many phenotyps. Until recently firmly in the hands of techsavvy early adopters were microblogging-tools like Jaiku, Pownce, the recently launched Plurk, or the most popular Twitter. Their service provides the most compressed, yet immediate form of conversation. 140 characters per message, in which the user can publish her current moods, occupations or links to sites they want to recommend to their followers or the whole web. And the means of that communication is nearly as free as the web: Text-messages, Instant messaging, special Clients [de] or the website of twitter can be used as input and output devices.

Ease is winning

At the same time there are hundreds of services and providers, that count on “User Generated Content”. No wonder that concepts and the design of those platforms follow certain patterns that become more obvious. Those can at first be seen in ideas and businessmodels.

A service seems to be most promising, when it solves a specificproblem. That may also be a very niche challenge. The functionality just has to be most focused and usable to the extend of being joyful to use, while giving a valuable benefit for the cost of using it at all.

Dopplr is a vivid example. You can contribute in which city you are planning to travel to. What you get is the plans of your contacts that also registered with the service. Primary benefit? Appointements by recovering coincidences or joining journeys. Sounds like something for a few people. Still enough to wow the community of frequent travellers. Important assets to success are for sure the reusability of the data, maybe on your own blog, but also the possibility to increase privacy by giving information only to assigned contacts. The form of the service tough is as simple as it could be: one object, many subjects.

As in most Services of the Social Web, Dopplr is all about one specific Social Object, here travel plan. In other cases it may be photos, videos, thoughts, music or activities and places, as seen at Qype, Brightkite or Plazes. Or it is about the persons and their relations to others that form that nucleus, think Facebook or LinkedIn. This Social Object serves as main feature of usage as well as the center of crystallisation for the conversation amongst users. Those comments, inboxes, guestbooks, newsfeeds of profile changes or pictures in photoalbums are the reason for the user to return to a site, which most often are run by advertising revenue.

Patterns will help

Usability is a matter of concept and design. And it is OK to cling on prelearned patterns. Humans do trust anything more when it happens in some familiar environment. The Logo should be up left, searchbox more on the right, the menu is the thing on the left.

Those are learned patterns in webdesign, that needed some time to come up and still give freedom for some variation. The consensus seemed to be much faster on Conversational Design Patterns; the building blocks, that are meant to enable conversation and interaction. If a servcie is built on participation of users you might be noticing flaws in usability obviously very much faster. But also these patterns will evolve constantly.

Patterns of conversation

It starts up, when you sign up for a new service. Registering as few data as possible should be the principle not only for privacy reasons. EMail and password are what is mandatory in most cases. After opting-in via email you often get to a form to enrich your profile with data, to make it easier to be identified by your peers. The Login-Functionality belongs there as well. username or eMail-address serve as authentification, another field for the password. Links for recovering lost passwords and probably a link for new users to sign up. That is how a pattern for the login-box can be imagined.

OpenID enabled Login
The pattern of a login box. OpenId is becoming more popular as an option.

But even this well known pattern has seen modifications recently. OpenID shows up more often at login-boxes, eithar as a logo or a text-link. OpenId is an open standard, that aims to solve the problem of constantly reentering profile-data including coming up with passwords and forgetting those again. A central spot, like myopenid.com or a bunch of similar providers, that host your own profil or even multiple personas of yourself and keep them up to date. The platforms then access only those datasets that they have been given permission for, the user only has to remember one password, which should be as safe as possible then for sure.

Another obvious pattern in conversational design are buddyicons, small pictures, often square-sized, that shall make the user identifiable to others. Flickr made those 48×48 pixel images popular. Over there serve also as tools to access the functions attached to a user. The trend is to use more larger images, some are even 200×200 pixel.

Comment with buddyicon
The own buddyicon and an activating preallocation encourage comments. Here: jovoto.com

Tagging and tagclouds came up especially but not exclusively on social bookmarking sites and serve to categorize the social objects by the user themselves. Over a while they were s0 popular as a trademark symbol of web 2.0, that there usecase fell behind many times. Tagy are only useful, if they are linked to lists of items. Tagclouds are only fun when they display an alphabetical order and as long as they show popularity or frequency over a certain timeframe.

Most important are the possibilites to communicate. Those are diverse, but can all coexist on a platform. A subliminal form of getting in contact is happening without consciousness on many sites: the visit of a profile page. Often, as for example on stumbleupon, is transparent to the user who has visited their profile. The full function is even part of the premium features of xing, while on mixxt you can turn of leaving (and seeing) those trails. The next level is called as “grooming” by experts. The user knows it as “poke” on facebook or “Gruscheln” on StudiVZ. A brief poke, without leaving any textual message. Public guestbooks on profile pages or private messages in internal inboxes of social-web-platforms are as common as groups and forums for conversations off site-topic. Interestingly those ways of communication are, besides SMS and Chat, getting more popular with youngsters than email is, which turns into a medium of the older generation soon. As long as it is not burried under spam before.

Facebook Chat
Facebook wants to keep users on the page and recently recalls an ancient pattern: Chat.

The pattern of comment became known on blogs and is a standard element of classic news-sites now also. Annotation to objects of all kinds are getting more elaborated. At Viddler and SoundCloud comments can be attached to the very timecode of videos or songs.

Comment in timeline
Ideal for audio in video: Comments directly in the timeline.

A very important building block is rating. It is stunning,how fast 5 stars became a widespread means of rating. Stats and numbers, karma and popularity are a recurring element in many ways. The vanity of each has to be fed with encouragement by a large count of contacts, comments, images and activity meters. You could call this cluster “reputation”, which is so often the motivation for the people to participate in the global conversation of the social web.

We love to take away

Not at last but still lately interoperability of platforms has gained focus.The possibilities of RSS and OAuth protocols are more and more fields of experimentation for the web-2.0-community. Egotainment, the joy in self-expression and networking of the users is sustained by aggregation services like friendfeed, socialthing or soup.io. The free portability of your own data and the integration of datastreams among platforms are goals of initiatives like dataportability and Google’s Open Social.

OpenID, OAuth, Dataportability and OpenSocial are initiatives, that want to improve open and secure standards.

This will only happen by broader standardisation on a technical level and by that more designpatterns will be created and streamlined for the social web. Services like Fring, Aka-Aki or Jaiku illustrate the trend of convergence onto mobile devices, like the iPhone, and make interaction designers to face further challenges.

4 Kommentare

  1. jrgd:

    hey Kosmar! Thanks for the translation… i now will have to find a couple of minutes to read and digest it. Amandine just wrote an essay on graphic design, authorship and new technology. It would be nice to start something out of a few reflection on this kind of topic/activities/practice. Sounds like a new project …
    Thanks again for taking the time to translate the article

  2. Mark Masterson:

    Interesting piece, full of lots of good ideas. Feeling lazy that I didn’t read the original. ;) I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on something I wrote awhile back that seems relevant to this idea: http://www.jroller.com/MasterMark/entry/is_there_an_optimal_mode

    Basically a (long; warning! ;)) rumination on the fact that conversations cannot be the only form of discourse available to us…

  3. Bookmarks about Businessideas:

    […] – bookmarked by 1 members originally found by rosdj on 2009-01-01 Keep up the conversation! – Patterns of Web 2.0 Design http://kosmar.de/archives/2008/06/09/keep-up-the-conversation-designpatterns-of-web-20/ – […]

  4. sandrar:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.