I found really interesting his work so I want reassume some useful Paul’s considerations that designers can follow (I suggest to read his work).
There are some important differences between the social interactions that people create online (with social networks) and offline (in the all days life). This creates many problems, and few opportunities.
People don’t have one group of friends but they tend to have independent group of people with which they shared life stages and experiences.
Not only do we not have one group of friends but, also in the same group, we are closer to some than others. On social networks (or in our mobile phones) all our contacts appear alphabetically without considering there differences. Yes, we can group them but they appear to us in the same way.
Also if people use to have hundreds of friends, the majority of them interact regularly with few of them. Usually the people with which we interact are also the people that influence us in purchase decisions.
There are hundreds of people that you know, but you can’t consider all as friends. The way we communicate with our friends’ friends or people we met recently is completely different from the way we interact with our close friends. Now with the social network we tend to maintain that connections. We don’t do that in the offline life.
People don’t have only one “identity”. People appear differently to different audiences and usually we care deeply about how we look to others. People act one way with their family, they act another way in work, and they act another way with their best friends.
In the online life, it is hard to set things up so that one group to see you one way, and another group to see you a different way. People have workarounds to manage this, including multiple email accounts, multiple Twitter or Facebook accounts.
Furthermore, what people “say” online can be read and searched by all and remains there for long time. People need to understand the consequences of their actions online.
What designers can do:
- Design for multiple groups. Allow people to create groups (and rename a group if it changes over time) and allow people to create conversation threads with only few people (Google Wave followed that idea).
- Design for different relationships. Don’t try to design something for all types of relationships. You’ll simply end up with a compromised solution for everyone.
- Design tools to support how people look to others. Help people do understand what are the consequences of their actions, and make these things clear.