Designing for complexities of social networks

I’ve stumbled across this compelling presentation exploring the complexities of online social networks by Paul Adams of the Google UX team.

His wide-ranging presentation explores how online social networks tend to flatten real-life social ones.  

In real-life we have different groups of friends, from those from college to work to family. Most of the time, these groups are kept distinct from each other, and tend to mix at fixed social occasions, such as weddings.

In the words of Adams, “we all have very different relationships with the people in our life and designing for them is very different.”

But online social networks tend to lump everyone into one basket. This is usually when the tensions arise, such as a boss seeing an inappropriate message or that party photo intended just for your college mates.

Social networking sites collapse our backstage and frontstage identities.

In journalism, it means that reporters may gain access to information, photos or video that were not intended to be available to the public, but are publicly available.

The BBC acknowledged this ethical dilemma for journalists in its recently updated guidelines on the use of social media, urging staff to consider whether, for example, someone intended a photo to be available to a wider public.

Adams argues that we need to design social networks that acknowledge the multiple facets of our identity and the different nature of the relationships we have.


  • David Hood says:

    Hey Alfred,

    Loved this when I first saw it too – I think it’s one of the most retweeted presentations I’ve shared.

    You might also like this post from Nathaniel Whittlemore (@nlw): “Why the Interest Graph Will Reshape Social Networks (and the Next Generation of Internet Business)” –

    Great post on #twitdef BTW.



  • Alfred Hermida says:

    Thanks for the comment and for the link, David. The area of social networks, the internet and influence is fascinating.

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