Posts Tagged ‘Jyri Engestrom’

Defining Requirements for Social Web Applications – Part 4: Defining Core User Actions

November 14, 2009 3 comments

This is the 4th post in a series on Defining Requirements for Social Web Applications. As with the other 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.

This post will be a bit longer than most, but hang in there, it contains some great content (hopefully!).

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

Define your Core Feature Set

According to Porter:

After identifying the primary activity and the objects people interact with, you’re ready to start creating your core feature set. Your core feature set is the set of possible actions that people can do in your application. They define what activity goes on, the possible interactions between people, what can and – sometimes just as importantly – cannot occur. Choosing features is one of the most important steps in defining what a web site is going to be.

Finding your Verbs

How do you define the “core features” of your application? Start with your objects, your nouns. Observe all the actions people do with/perform on those objects, and those are possible features for your application.

Jyri Engestrom calls this step “finding your verbs”. Given a noun, what actions are associated? The answer is a set of verbs.

Porter provides the following examples of finding verbs:

Finding your Verbs

Many of these verbs, says Porter, will translate directly into features. If you’re building a video site, for example, you’ll likely have features to upload a video, play the video, and share the video. This simple step is where the most valuable features come from.

Porter also points out that the verbs and both personal and social. This is to be expected, as we interact with objects on both a personal level and a social level.

Porter illustrates the key social objects and verbs displayed on a YouTube page:

YouTube Social Objects and Verbs

Collections of Objects as Features

Pay attention to any collections of objects, advises Porter. They can often become valuable features. Take lists for example. Quoting Porter:

One important collection is lists. Are people making lists? What of? How are they organizing and managing information?

Here are some common common ways that people collect things:

  • Wish lists
  • Shopping carts
  • Favorites
  • Shared items
  • My stuff (restaurants, reviews, bookmarks, etc.)
  • Friend’s stuff
  • Projects

Once you have an idea of the collections that people make, give them ways to manage the collection. Again quoting Porter:

What actions (verbs) do they perform on the collection? This will probably mean providing people with ways to add, edit, and delete items from the collection, and perhaps even treating the collection as an object itself, with features such as sharing and a permalink.

Case Study: Amazon’s Social Features

Porter next explores the social features on Amazon’s website in the context of his AOF method. Take note of the tremendous number of social features on Amazon’s site to help make shopping easier (sorry if the visuals are a bit blurry, you should still get the idea):

Amazon's Social Features

Amazon's Social Features 2

Amazon's Social Features 3

Note that we can see most of the actions support the most important object, products. Amazon has focused most of their time and energy there. But they have also identified other important objects central to the activity of shopping, and include features to support those.

Prioritize your Features

Porter doesn’t mention this in his book, but it’s important to prioritize your features, particularly if you are doing agile-style development, and plan to deploy your features incrementally. Not all features will be equally important to your users. Identify which features are core to your application, and be sure to focus on getting those right first.

Up next …

Social Objects are great, and the key activites you perform on them will form the core of your application. But what motivates users to participate on social websites? What’s in it for them? The next post will explore the key topic of user motivation for participating on social websites.

Also in this series

Defining Requirements for Social Web Applications – Part 3: Social Objects

November 13, 2009 11 comments

This is the 3rd post in a series on Defining Requirements for Social Web Applications. As with the other 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:


“Social object” is a term founded by sociologist and Jaiku foun­der, Jyri Enges­trom. Engestrom is currently a product manager at Google. Engestrom coined the term “social object” in this blog post in 2005, and it since become a core concept in social website design. I’ve blogged previously on Engestrom and social objects here, which includes a link to a presentation given by Engestrom at Web 2.0 Expo 2009 in San Francisco.

So what is a Social Object?

“Social Objects” are the things in this world that we share in the context of our social experiences. More specifically, a social object is some “thing” we share with others as part of our social media experience on the social web.

If you look around at the dominant Web 2.0-styles websites – YouTube, Flicker, Yelp, Wikipedia, Netflix, Digg, Amazon, Slideshare, etc. – each site facilitates social experience around some particular social object. Here’s a nice visual from Porter’s book that lists some of the Web’s most successful applications, and their associated social objects.

Social Objects

Social objects, says Porter, are often overlooked in the attention given to Social Networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. He quotes Jyri Engestrom from a 2005 blog post on the topic:

The term “social networking” makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people. Think about the object as the reason why people affiliate with each specific other and not just anyone. For instance, if the object is a job, it will connect me to one set of people whereas a date will link me to a radically different group. This is common sense but unfortunately it’s not included in the image of the network diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term “social network”. The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people.”

Identify your Social Objects

So the next step is to identify the key Social Objects in your social application – photos, listings, news stories, products, or even knowledge itself, as in the case of Wikipedia.

Give Social Objects a URL

This is somewhat more of a design concern that a functional requirement of the application, but each individual instance of a social object should be represented by a unique , user-friendly URL. Porter lists the following reasons for given each object a URL:

  • URL’s make object shareable
  • URL’s make objects easier to find and re-find
  • URL’s allow people to link to an object directly
  • Search engines like URLs

So now that you’ve identified the core social objects in your application, it’s time to identify the core features that your application must support. This will be the topic of the next post.


Also in this series

Social Objects – Jyri Engestrom

October 14, 2009 2 comments

While the concept has been floating around in the mainstream for several years now, I just recently came across Google’s Jyri Engestrom‘s notion of a Social Object. For an introduction to the notion of a Social Object, please see Hugh MacLeod‘s Social Objects for Beginners.

Engestrom has given a number of presentations on the topic of Social Objects over the years. The presentation below is from Web2.0 Expo San Francisco in April 2009.

Here’s the slide presentation on Slideshare.

And here are Engestrom’s 5 Principles for Building Object-centered Social Sites:

  1. Define your object
  2. Define your verbs
  3. Make the objects shareable
  4. Turn invitations into gifts
  5. Charge the publishers not the spectators

The “social object” concept is very powerful. It’s somewhat obvious after you encounter it, but it’s nice to put a label to the concept.