It’s a tired cliche to say that social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare are being designed and programmed by a bunch of homogeneous, Red Bull-sucking, Millennial, spoiled rotten and egocentric whiz-kids who have no real business experience and can’t think outside their own experiences.
It’s not just tired, it’s exhausted, because it’s been running the buzz on the Internet for years.
I didn’t say there was no truth in the cliche.
Part of the problem is generational, part of the problem is age, and part of the problem is an intense concentration of programmers and designers in one area. It’s pretty much the Valley, Boston and Austin. Sure, the miracle of the web is that we can all work at home designing templates for each others’ blogs — yet all those designers spend their day re-doing rounded corners and emulating the “97 great new ideas” listbait posts at SmashingMagazine.
The tools of social media have empowered us, but not yet to the extent that a business owner can tweak and design the tool that fits his business model. Unless, of course, we can extend Small Business Administration loans to those who want to attend a 13-week Python and Ruby-on-Rails camp. (Sorry, script kiddies — I know Rails is so 2008, but I had to keep the Geezers’ attention with something they knew.)
Yes, data is democratized, but the social web is still suffering from a huge bout of One-Size-Fits-All. No, I am not pining for the days of MySpace Glitter for the sake of stark individuality. But there are some ways our social networks can meet us in the middle.
A Foursquare For All
I have a hard time explaining Foursquare to people, but I’m not alone. The kids running the show over there really haven’t explained it all that well either. (It worked for Twitter, right?)
Foursquare did make a concession to business owners and managers, allowing them to claim their location. It’s a great move, which lets them separate their patrons from their employees, and awarding the Mayorships to those who actually show up. A new feature even allows the manager to permanently ban someone who abuses the check-in system.
Bravo. But why stop there?
The idea of checking into a place every day makes sense, if you either work there, live there, or stop in to grab a coffee on your way to the office (or on your way to the wide table in the back, next to the WiFi antenna and the only corner power outlet. I’m talking to you, mobile workforce.)
Some businesses, though, don’t meet that model. Like hair salons, for instance.
I know of several salons that could absolutely benefit from going social. Imagine doing Twitpics of before and after your cut. It’s the most targeted kind of word-of-mouth you can deploy. Foursquare checkins would be an ideal way to reward customer loyalty — but the checkins don’t count after 60 days. I can’t think of a 60 day period where I’ve had my hair cut more than twice, and even the most high-maintenance of us wouldn’t go more than once every two or three weeks.
The next evolution would get us away from one-size thinking, and let the businesses themselves decide how long to track interactions. Additionally, instead of having a Nuclear Option to wipe out a Mayor, why not take 10-20 visits off their tally after they cash in a perk? That way, you have more people in line to be Mayors, and generate interest among several people. Also, you could devise a different reward system for those who come faithfully four-times-a-week, but never get over the hump.
It used to be that a website would have to do something drastic to alienate its users. If you’re Facebook, all you have to do is decrease the font size.
Again, I don’t want to go to the Wild Wild West of whacked out page layouts — and I trust that Facebook is indeed testing user satisfaction, time on site, and all of the other passive metrics. But give me an option to move to a larger font, without disrupting the settings across my browser and all of my tabs!
Perhaps the most egregious example of One-Size-Fits-All mentality goes not to the programmers, but the legal team over at Twitter. Now we are to properly capitalize Tweet (look at what I did in the sub-head, I am such the rebel!) We’re all to use the same logos and icons, we’re all to use the same language, and we’re all supposed to abide by the same rules about quoting one another.
For Twitter, it’s all about establishing the precedents required to assert authority over trademarks. Yet its communications on the matter addressed the world at large as though we were commercial businesses instead of, you know, people. Technically speaking, I could become insanely rich one day and become a venture capitalist, but let’s assume I don’t.
One thing Twitter did get right is in the placement of its ads. Dropping ads into timelines, even within third-party applications, is smart. The service announced that it would insert the ads based on an algorithm of relevance, dictated primarily by what you talk about, ask about, and whom you follow.
What this does is ensure that your ad experience will be a function of who you are, and mine will be based on who I am. That is My-Size-Fits-Me thinking, and it will be appropriately rewarding.
At least until they change everyone’s font settings to make the ads bigger.