Home > Social Design, Social Web > Defining Requirements for Social Web Applications – Part 7: Enabling Sharing

Defining Requirements for Social Web Applications – Part 7: Enabling Sharing

This is the 7th and final post in a series on Defining Requirements for Social Web Applications. As with previous posts in this series, the content is largely borrowed from Joshua Porter’s book Designing for the Social Web. Porter’s book is a gem, and if the topic of social web design is of interest to you, I highly recommend you pick up a copy.

Click on the following links to access previous posts in this series:

Design for “Connectors”

I’m kind of blown away at how effective a communicator Joshua Porter is. I read Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, and thought it was a brilliant book. Loads of great insights into the phenomenon of Social Contagion – that is, how ideas go viral in a social network.

However, I really don’t think I could improve on the brief treatment Porter gives the topic. So well, I’m not even going to try. Here’s Porter:

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes a rare type of person he calls a “connector”. Connectors play a special role in society: they act like hubs in a network, spreading information from one node to another. They are the social conduit that keeps everyone up to date and informed.

The main role of connectors is to spread ideas. They have wide social circles – much wider than the average person – and when they get excited about a new idea, they share it with everyone they come into contact with. That’s just the way there are. Connectors love to be the first to tell their friends about a great new thing. They gain social capital as they do this. …

Connectors are key enablers of word of mouth: they’re super sharers. And to anyone building a social web application, they are like gold. If you can get a connector talking about your application, then it stands a better chance of success, because more people will find out about it.

Porter continues:

Sharers are great for several reasons:

  • Sharers advertise for you – When sharing works well, other people are doing a very important function for you: advertising. You don’t have to spend as much money on regular advertising or other forms of attention-grabbing if sharers are spreading your word.
  • What sharers say is more powerful than what you say – No matter how well you communicate the value of your application, it’s not as powerful as something a sharer (or any fan) can say about you. If someone says, “that service is great, I highly recommend it”, there is little you can do to improve on that message.
  • Sharers tell you why you’re great – Sometimes what a sharer says about you is different than what you say about yourself. Listening to them can give you insight into why other people get passionate about your application [or product/service].

Two Types of Sharing

Porter highlights two types of sharing: implicit and explicit.

Implicit sharing happens when an item is shared as a byproduct of participation. On Del.icio.us, for example, your bookmarks are shared by default, so that others can see them even if your original intention was to simply save it for later. This provides value to others without your explicit decision to do so.

Explicit sharing is how we usually share: on purpose. The most common way to explicitly share is by sending someone an email containing the shared item or a link to it. But now we’re seeing many more ways to share. You can now send a shared item to your MySpace or Facebook account or submit shared items to social news services like Digg and Reddit.

And of course, these days, everyone is twittering!

What to Share?

Well, in a word, anything and everything that can be represented in digital form. Some of the items Porter lists are: news articles, blog posts, web pages, videos, pictures, wish lists, music, documents, calendars, reading lists, bookmarks, slideshows, spreadsheets, etc.

The items that you share are the social objects in your application.

The Activity of Sharing

Porter provides another great little visual to illustrate the steps involving in sharing:

Activity of Sharing

Sharers Heed the Call to Action

Porter comments that the call to action can be an interface element that signals the ability to share an item with others. In many cases the call to action will be the nudge that gets people to share.

Here’s an image of a typical sharing widget on a social website:

Sharing - Call to Action

Porter proceeds to provide some tips on good and bad design techniques for presenting sharing call-to-action widgets around content.


Well, I think that about wraps it up. A introduction to some of the key features and capabilities you’ll want to enable on your social website. I hope you enjoyed this series of blogs posts.

Also in this series


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