Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Social Graph : Access, Activities, Environment & Experiences

In continuation to the previous post : The Scheme of things which may have set the base to understand the usage of terms such as Identity, Relation, Context, Functional Domains, Functions, State, Reputation and Edge Devices, I intend to work towards the functions of the Access points (Edge devices), Nature of Activities and Environment of use of the social-graph in this post.

Edge Devices
To quickly summarize, edge devices are the access points or tools that are used to communicate with the digital world, be it world wide web or the social graphs. Broadly there are 3 types of edge devices today being PCs/Laptops, Tablets and Mobile. Each device has advantages and disadvantages around form factor, resolution, input functions (keyboard), nearness (always with me?), bandwidth, processing capacity, memory etc.

Nature of Activities
Lets now broadly categorize the 'nature' of activities that a user performs over a social graph, as follows:

  1. Heavy text content creation/updates (Initiation as well as operational)
  2. Media content updates
  3. Passive Information Consumption
  4. Active Information Consumption
  5. Interaction

Heavy text content creation: During the initiation (or the first time use of the graph) there may be Identity creation, profile updates and other such social-graph-context specific info that needs to be updated. Depending on the context of the graph, these activities may include extraction and load process (Ex:Bill-of-material) into the graph as well. Also on a ongoing basis, you may change, update, add several stateful information that is relevant to the context.

Media content updates: These can be updates of Audio, Video, Pics or other relevant media specific to context.

Passive info consumption: User may visit the social graph site based on events like a notification (friend posted something on the wall) to only consume that portion of information. Or, the user may in general check the news-feed to be in-touch with activities and statues of others through a quick browse.

Active info consumption: User actively searches for a specific profile in the hope of hire (Linkedin), or a product search to find the seller (eBay) etc. There is a active and intense engagement of user to retrieve info either in the form of discovery (looking for something) or recovery (recall what i know already exists). This requires users attention to perform the activity with satisfaction.

Interaction: Interaction may involve, chatting, tagging, commenting, likes, purchase, filling lead forms, quotations etc... (diff function across diff domains of social graph)

The most important aspect of the access points are its environment.

- PCs/laptops are typically fixed point devices used from home or work. They are fully loaded across all capabilities including larger screen, ergonomic keyboard, powerful CPU, memory, fat-pipe (bandwidth) etc. Users typically sit-upright with full attention to perform a task when working with PC. There is limited distraction and ambient noise when user works on a PC. Lets call this the sit-upright posture. Lets say the combination of the device capability and the posture is called as a experience. Typically the consumer can perform all activities (#1-#5) with absolute ease during this experience.

- Next, Tablets are mobility devices meant to be carried around and used in environments such as conference, work, shop-floor, home, events etc. The device capabilities are typically built around info consumption with a focus towards, touch inputs, relative mid sized screens (compared to PCs) and a good processing power for gaming. Now these devices are built to be used in a relaxed manner, leaning-back on a sofa, reading a digital book, playing angry birds, taking quick short notes etc. Lets call this the lean-back posture. IMO the functions that are mostly apt for a lean-back experience is media-content-updates, passive info consumption, and some amount of active info consumption, and interactions. Not all functions of active info consumption may provide maximum utility for a lean-back experience. Also heavy text inputs or extraction-load processes are a complete no.

- Finally, Mobile phones are extreme mobility devices which have the smallest form factor, limited screen size, not so powerful processor etc. The most important aspect of this device is its always-on, always-with-me profile. Also the environments in which they are used are far wider in range than the above two device profiles. Lets hypothesize that a user who has a PC + Phone, would mostly switch to PC when in home or work. (I will keep the discussion on users who never have a PC but only a phone, separate from this post). This eliminates home/work as the major usage time of phone as a access point to engage with social graphs sites. Given this assumption, phones, almost overlap with all environments that of Tablets.

Mobiles are also majorly used in shopping areas, airports, cafes. Typically due to the limited form factor of the mobile, and the amount of ambient noise, distraction, grab-of-attention etc that happens to engage the user away from the phone, the utility of the phone is primarily built to be able to be operated with minimal attention span of the user and maybe single handedly. User typically leans-foward, quickly consumes info and gets engaged back in his environment. So lets call this the Lean-forward experience.

Lets extend the context of the mobile phone profiles a bit. There are feature phones (Not so powerful, limited capability devices) and there are smart phones (A mini Tablet lets say). So the utility of each of this differs based on input capabilities as well as info consumption (based on processing power). Assuming that mobiles are used in a highly distracting environments (unless in a cafe), the nature of activities that you may perform on a mobile gets further limited to a quick status update (about where you are, what you are doing) or passive info consumption. Also only some amount of media content updates and interaction can be performed. Performing Active info seek, or heavy operational text inputs are almost bad experience from the utility-value-grid perspective here.

So the users usage behavior on accessing specific functions of the social-graph is completely dependent on the profile capabilities of the Edge-device, Environment, and the Posture (Upright, Lean-Back, Lean-forward). In effect, all these dimensions combined, drives the experience of the user which limits the maximum utility of a social-graph function for a specific combination of these dimensions.

We can conclude that the way we experience the social graph significantly differs based on the combinatorics as explained.

Here-in lies a premise to focus on either incremental-innovation to build on top of the permissible utilities of a specific experience (mobile-lean-forward) or work towards disruptive innovation on making the pain-points go away (speech-to-text for heavy input processing). That said, it is difficult to change the environment of use or the limited attention a user gets for an experience such as mobile-lean-forward.

Will leave you for now on the thoughts of how applications and domain specific social-graphs can evolve particularly around a mobile-lean-forward experience, as majority of the graph utilities are yet to emerge in this segment...

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