Facebook Talk at GeorgiaTech

Today, Facebook’s UX research team came to Georgia tech to talk about their thoughts on ‘the loving and tumultuous marriage of Big Data and UX’. I agree with the speaker that people seem to have a metrics fetishism. It might be easier to measure how successful a retail company is by looking at their ‘sales per store’, but it is more complicated to define the profit metric for Facebook, Google or Twitter.

I like and agree with his suggestion that design should be informed by metrics but not be driven by it(metrics fetishism). This is exemplified by the behavior of Facebook ‘likes’ because people use Facebook like button to mean different things in different scenarios. For example, a ‘Like’ can signify that I agree with someone, or that I empathize with someone, or that I approve of someone, or that I want to like something because all my friends liked it. So then how can we determine a general  metric for Facbook ‘Like’? If I give a lot of ‘Likes’ does that mean I am more happy or satisfied? It is, therefore, important to not only to determine the  no.of likes but also to understand the deeper social meaning behind each of those likes.

The researchers concluded by saying that ‘Data is not enough’ reasoning that it will put UX designers at the mercy of the engineers who implement the logging functionality. I agree with them that UX researchers and designers must look at behaviors that are meta and harder to quantify.

How Facebook helps foster weak ties

The ‘Strength of Weak Ties’ by Granovetter has given me insight into how weak ties are crucial in shaping the cohesion of  one’s social network and consequently affecting one’s social behavior. 

I agree with Granovetter’s hypothesis that the stronger the tie between A and B, the larger the number of people with whom they will both be connected to. I think that the validity of this hypothesis is illustrated by the emphasis that people place in determining the strength of their ties to a person on Facebook based on the number of their mutual friends (larger the no.of mutual friends, stronger the perceived tie to a person).

Another interesting hypothesis was that weak ties can diffuse information more easily and rapidly in a community, which seemsto be the foundation for most online social networks today. They all leverage the fact that people want to share their photos,stories,blogs etc with people whom they have strong,weak or even no ties with in an easy manner. And so these online communities, e.g.: tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest etc facilitate formation of  weak ties to bridge communication gaps. I think that these bridging weak ties are important for me to reach people who are socially distant from me, and also to gain knowledge about a world beyond my tight knit community.

In conclusion, I agree that weak ties have huge implications on the macro phenomena that occur in social networks such as social mobility, community organization and information diffusion. And I believe that Facebook not only strengthens & maintains strong ties across geographical and time differences, but also facilitates forming of weak ties more easily.

Design Note on an Interactive Game

Stop Disasters in an interactive simulation game that tries to abstract the real-world scenario of people preparing for natural disasters.

In this game, players choose one of several disaster scenarios. The goal is to “plan and conduct a safer environment for your population,” by allocating and managing resources such as reinforcing buildings, building defenses, etc. Once the disaster occurs, players can see how well the choices they made helped protect the village.


Extrinsic state variables such as population, risk and death statistics are indicated well using status bars and maps.However, it doesn’t offer much feedback on the effectiveness of your choices. After the disaster, you are only given a snapshot overview of the results which does not inform how one area or building fared, or how much impact the individual defenses you built had.

The message, conveyed in an undertone, is that simple measures, such as educating citizens, or maintaining natural protections such as wetlands and coral reefs, invariably lead to more success than more costly solutions. The game motivates replay by giving the interactor choice to explore different types of disaster scenarios and different difficulty levels within each scenario. Also, complicated strategy ( random events are generated in each scenario that trick interactors to fail) and social theme ( learn to save lives) invite replay.


Design Note on Spotify

Spotify is a music streaming service.

Spatial - The “Whats New” page displays a carousel of new album releases. If the user hovers over the album art, a play button appears which allows the user to listen to the news songs right there, while still flipping through the other recommended albums and songs. Users can import their playlists from iTunes, create their own playlists, or subscribe to other artists/friends playlists.Moreover, Users can sync Spotify music to their iPod/iPhone .

Encyclopedic- Spotify has a catalog of over 15 million songs, whereas Pandora has a mere 1 million songs.

Procedural - It allows advanced searching via searching for artists, albums, labels and genres. The playlists are sorted with the most played song on the top.

Participatory - Spotify has a radio feature that allows the users to create custom radio stations based on song, artists, or genre. It also recommends radio stations based on the music preferences of the users. Users can share songs to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr or send songs directly to the receiver’s Spotify inbox where they can either play the song instantly or add it to one of their playlists.


Design Note on Pinterest

One of the primary aspects that sets Pinterest apart from other social image bookmarking sites is it’s design. Pinterest puts web content into small blocks users can pin onto pin boards representing different categories.

Layout: Pinterest has overcome the issue of efficiently organizing images of varying heights by using the masonry style layout. It takes vertical height into account when laying out the images, thereby creating a puzzle piece flow of images on the page. The recent activity of friends is displayed on the left side along with the images , which I think is a great layout technique as it doesn’t draw attention away from all the images , but doesn’t go unnoticed because it is the first image.

Typography: The typography is very simple and consistent throughout the site , with bold text to highlight the current browsing tab. The title has a different type style which stands out from the rest of the text.

Color: Color is used sparingly and very effectively. Most of the page is grey which doesn’t conflict with the colors of the images and ensures that the user’s attention to stays on the images.