September 15th, 2007

The Assumptions That Yahoo Mash And Other Social Networks Make About You

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Every application needs to make assumptions about its users, and for some people those assumptions will inevitably be wrong. Why is it, though, that so many social networks and other social applications assume that all social web users are not yet old enough to drink?

That’s the first impression I got from Yahoo’s new social network Mash. It has a clean design, slick ajax, and generally gave me a user friendly feeling, but it also bothers me that Mash thinks I’m a teenager interested in expressing all the quirkiness that makes me UNIQUE:

yahoo-mash-profile.jpg

On Mash, it’s all about play — no work life for you! Ironic for me, since everyone in my Gmail address book on Mash is a media/tech professional checking out the new service.

This is similar to the assumptions that Facebook makes about how we know people:

facebook-friend-how-do-you-know.jpg

This is not a critique on Mash’s features, which seem like they’re on the right track for a service still early in its development — it’s an issue of tone. Mash apparently allows your friends to edit your profile if you give them permission, which could be fun, if you want to use Mash for messing around.

The problem is that there are too many one-size-fits-all social networks for having fun and socializing. Yahoo has millions of users, and will probably be able to draw a lot of those in to play around with Mash — with the emphasis on PLAY.

I’m not saying play isn’t a good thing (unless you’re doing too much of it on company time), but all play and no work will make a lot of people over 25 wonder why they need one more playground.

Or maybe this is the way to all web services talk to us now:

Customize this page by adding cool stuff!

Cool stuff indeed.

UPDATE

I just discovered that Mash has introduced an innovative way to distinguish among your friends — you can have “friends” and “BEST friends”:

mash-friends-best-friends.jpg

BFF!

Comments (22 Responses so far)

  1. I have always assumed you were a teenager, Scott. I would have friended you on Mash, but it keeps crashing in Firefox for me. I’ll “play” with it another day.

  2. [...] Yahoo Mash Assumes You’re a Teenager | Publishing 2.0 Quote – It bothered me that Mash thinks I’m teenager interested in expressing all the quirkiness that makes me UNIQUE. (tags: mashups) permalink | categories: All other | Time posted: 11:23 pm on Saturday, September 15th, 2007 [...]

  3. I’m sure you already know this, but Facebook assumes you’re under 25 because it was at first designed for college students, and it wasn’t until 2007 that it became open to people who don’t have access to a .edu email address.

  4. Yes, good points though clearly they are in “real” beta and looking for lots of feedback. I’m not sure the early adopters now doing Mash bear much relationship to those who they eventually expect to participate most actively – they probably will be teens and college who have more time for this stuff.

    Ironically, a great social network for computer professionals may not be nearly as viable as one for kids – in the long run.

  5. [...] Scott’s annoyed that Mash is treating him like a … kid. [...]

  6. There’s been some research on gamer culture coming to the workplace. Notions of teamwork, intimacy/privacy, goal discovery, measures of success, and other workplace characteristics are influenced by gaming and other forms of play as players from 18 to 40 assume leadership roles.

    Many industries, especially publishing, are more structured as adhocracies and wirearchies where personal brand and informal organization are matching or superseding formal hierarchy. Starting with email, blogs, and wikis, and now with twitter, Skype, and social networks, we’re inventing and deploying tools for the new workplace.

    So while Mash’s clothing may appear goofy, put on your work hat and imagine how, with a few small tweaks you might adapt it to the new world of work. For example, past “my friend” and “best friend” add: my immediate supervisors, direct reports, peers, bowling team, chain of command, community of practice, customer, in-my-organization, partner, supplier (and other elements you might pluck from SAP or Salesforce). Imagine widgets enabling views of projects, your work schedule, internal news, what your colleagues are working on, risks/threats of the day/week worthy of your attention. And populate your bio with answers your community cares for: claims to fame, places you’ve traveled and lived, things you know/can do/understand/teach.

    Innovation is as likely to start in consumer products as anywhere else, and many find their way into industry despite futile resistance. I’m not convinced that Yahoo! particularly cares about business uses since they haven’t discovered a way to make money sans advertising from office tools. So I’m looking for the capabilities that will find their way into other services, services I’m likely to smuggle into my daily work life. Yahoo! pipes, upcoming and flickr are everyday tools for me at work, as are Google desktop, docs, mail, and calendar, and Skype. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Mash joined them?

  7. I’ve wondered about this, too; doesn’t Facebook assume their alumni, when they graduate from college, might make business acquaintances at their new jobs?

  8. @Phil

    I’m not suggesting Mash or other social networks aren’t a useful platforms for professional collaboration — in fact, I think such social platforms have huge potential to help people work together as much as they have helped people play together.

    It’s not an issue of functionality but rather tone — why not create another “face” for the application that speaks to people who are interested in professional networking?

    But then a one-size-fits-all application, like these “mass media” social networks, is never going to be optimized for that purpose.

  9. One of the things that Path 101 is trying to do is to help users create a more “professional space”. We don’t think that you need another recreational social network, and LinkedIn is more like a utility (one that we hope to plug into) but doesn’t give you enough flexibility to make it the place that people want to send others to as their profile. This is particularly true for college students who don’t have experience or connections and therefore have really lame LinkedIn profiles.

  10. [...] Scott Karp gets it half right in lamenting that “so many social networks assume that all social Web users are not yet old enough to drink.&#82… [...]

  11. What’s the marginal benefit for another social network? Yahoo’s “build it and they will come” mentality is so 1999 (although back then it was “buy it and they will come”).

  12. Yep, there are valid business reasons to be out there “hanging with the kids” but it all does appear to be a bit juvenile. It is not enough to tell Facebook, for example, that a “friend” is in your family, they also want to know “how are you related?” Who gives a crap, I told you that this particular person was in my family and that should be enough.

  13. Carlos:

    You may specify that they are in your family without having to fill out any more information.

  14. [...] 17th, 2007 · No Comments Scott Karp writes about his experiences with the new Yahoo mash service. His article draws up all kinds of questions about social networks and their targeted audiences. [...]

  15. See also: Dan Brickley’s post about this kind of assumption, which goes on to describes how Semantic Web technologies can be used to improve matters: “The World is now closed”.

  16. I think creating two “faces” is probably not wise because all social networks are essentially the building of a nucleus community. Even one that is trying to build off the Yahoo brand.

    What is more likely is that in the near term instead of “two faces” from the same social network, there will be very different networks. Your persona at work (ie LinkedIn) is different than your personal persona (Mash).

    Longer term I think what we are seeing is a breakdown of these barriers. As Phil points out, people are bringing play to work. Casual Friday happens all week. And eventually your personal and your professional persona become one brand.

  17. Mickeleh’s Take: We’re making progress. Nobody knows you’re not a teenager. It used to be nobody knows you’re a dog.

    If you’re a dog, you can’t drive. If you’re a teenager, you can’t drink. If you’re a teenage dog you can’t drink and drive. Which would make you pretty safe, if it weren’t for the interspecies pedos cruising you.

  18. [...] Social Network for People 21 and Over Scott Karp wrote, Why is it that so many social networks and other social applications assume that all social web [...]

  19. [...] Yahoo Mash demographics not for you? Scott Karp challenges the juvenile profile selections that Yahoo’s lastest social networking platform “Mash” provides. Or maybe [...]

  20. [...] September 20, 2007 at 3:10 pm · Filed under Uncategorized The Assumptions That Yahoo Mash And Other Social Networks Make About You [...]

  21. A thought for you, offered without the assurance that I’ll think that it has any merit tomorrow, but something that comes to mind…

    One sight that I remember from undergrad was that of the good humor truck rolling up the center of the quad, watching the very serious students going up to get their icecream and almost getting bowled over by a Nobel laureate who wondered out loud if there were any push-ups yet. Yes, some professionals are going to look at some of the cutesier things and be repulsed; but others may be amused by the (cliche warning) opportunity to get in touch with their inner child (children?), having nothing left to prove.

    As long as Mash balances the goofiness with a little adult appeal, I think that they might find that a lot of adults are going to be more amused than annoyed.

  22. Very very interesting post..I like this one. gotta bookmark this one.

    Cheers,
    gadgettechblog.com

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