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This month’s London Web Standards group met to discuss Designing for the Social Web, by Joshua Porter. Big thanks to Jeff Van Campen, the group’s organiser, for kindly giving me a copy!

I liked this book, and I don’t know if I had expected to. From the first page it’s immediate that the ‘design’ of the title doesn’t refer to graphic or Web design. It’s a 101 in creating successful social Web applications, covering the whole spectrum of ‘design’ and development and how to tackle the issues you’ll come across in doing so.

Quoting names as varied as Darwin, Freud, Berners-Lee and Douglas Adams, Designing for the Social Web offers a great amount of depth in it’s near-200 pages, more so than I had anticipated. Porter presents details studies in all aspects of social media ‘design’. Of course, the interface and UX designing itself, as well as discussing user behaviour, online identity, social economics and particularly the application life cycle.

The book lays the foundations for constructing the ‘perfect’ social website. It defines important goals and principles, it recommends research methodologies in order to identify your audience. From there, it takes you through the process of determining your users’ intentions, their goals and incentives – ultimately, for you to distinguish your core features and the site’s functions.

He looks at popular social sites, the big names as you’d expect and reflects upon their legacies, but others too that invite further investigation. Throughout, he refers to good supporting materials – important interviews, blogs and key names in this current social media boom.

Early on, Porter constructs a framework for development, his ‘AOF’ framework, describing a simple prioritisation scheme that he uses for reference thereafter. He expands upon its three building blocks – of audience, objects and features – and moves forward to studying each topic and their importance within the chapters that follow. It’s detailed and well deconstructed.

But the real good kick of the book is in the four chapters where Porter concentrates and dissects four very focused areas of your application’s development, specifically, designing for sign-up, for ongoing participation, for collective intelligence and for sharing. These parts make up the bulk of the book, they’re very well researched and informed.

Without wanting to relate the whole book here, these build upon four ‘hurdles’ that Joshua outlines at the very beginning, describing how to achieve, maintain and build-upon a deep level of user engagement.

Porter's User Engagement Hurdles
Ultimately, Porter concludes by offering methods of analysis in order to understand and optimise your application once published. He gives pointers to evaluate performance, measure and act upon usage statistics, describing techniques to gather meaningful metrics and how to react accordingly.

As I say, I enjoyed the book all in all. Throughout, it is very contemporary and up-to-date in both its principles and with its examples.

It’s needless for me to say how powerful and useful, lately how almost essential, social Web apps have become and can be. With giants like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube et al, even sites that you might not think at first to be inclusively ‘social’ (although they very much are) – Nike+, LibraryThing – it is an incredibly hard market to break into for any new startups.

I think for anyone intending to do just that, this book is both extremely relevant and important reading.


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