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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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".

  • Kris

    Carlos:

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

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