A while back (2009) I worked on a project to develop an internal affinity-oriented social network for professionals which focused on collaboration.
I often referred to the project as “FaceBook for the Enterprise“, but we could also call it …
A Model for ‘Your Intranet on Steroids’
Wait a minute: “Eeeeeew! Intranets are geeky and boring“, you say
Bear with me here. And take a look…
Index / Landing page
Introduce the 4 main Content areas:
- Projects (collaboration)
- Personalization (tagging, connections, and sharing)
Focus on features (What’s New)
- 1-click voice access (integrates a Skype-like conferencing service : transcend the channel)
- the Relationship Navigator (your affinity map)
- Feedback tools (crowdsource our knowledge)
Membership has its privileges
the MyCenter section
- The MyCenter section is my active dashboard
- By default it focuses on communication: specifically my conversation threads and event notifications.
- It also focuses on affinity attributes: who I’m following/being followed by and my favorites
Conversations & Communiques
The assumed focus of myCenter is Conversations (topic Threads) and Communiques (event Notifications)
Conversations & Communiques (left/main panel)
- the concept of Following (relatively new concept at the time – it was 2009)
- robust linking allows immediate drill-down to detailed info on (people, topic threads, subject items, etc.)
- Status of “followers” (people affinity) and “tags” (topic affinity) for each message or thread
- timestamp (light blue background indicates “urgency”/ “recency”
- virtual introduction … indicates a functional feature of Click to Call : automated text conversion, which might be nice trigger for automated language translation
The Sidebar (panel at right)
- “markets” new features, like Click to Call
- gives you a quick Status thumbnail on “top topic areas”
- Could be more/other things … but it’s a start
Note: There’s also a [ Communication Archive ] button, which brings together all of my communications (my own threads, comments, event notifications, etc.) … in one place
Following / Favorites
This is a ‘me centric‘ perspective on relationships: I didn’t ‘flesh out’ all pages in the model. But the bullets capture the intent…
The table headings indicate how the info might be presented:
- Following (following me/I’m following)
- Shared tags (affinity of interests)
- [my] Rating of them (value/relevance)
- [their] Rating of Me (value/relevance)
- Note that “Affinity is mirrored” (How I feel about them / How they feel about me)
At a Glance: Who I’m Following/being Followed by : Profile, Affinity, and Compatibility
Let’s Frame the Environment
Okay, so that’s the intro and overview of a solutions model for an environment which encourages “professional affinity“.
The Intuitive Collaborative Design group (ICD) was charged with implementing a social networking and collaboration platform across Bell Labs. A primary focus was on integrated messaging and workflow collaboration .
There’s a bunch of info there, including a clickable demosite.
Small group of five; three of us were remote/virtual.
- A small group of really smart people
- Casual & collegial
- Agile style & affect
One of my most enjoyable and productive engagements.
These screenshots were designed in 2009 for the desktop technology environment which was prevalent at the time.
Mobile was a reality, but not yet a de facto assumption – especially for a professional office environment – so this does not reflect small-screen design, much less “mobile first“. It is what it is.
Here are a couple of challenges that I face whenever I’m designing a model.
Presentation challenge: the tabfolders
They’re kind of “old-style”, aren’t they?
We humans need to “chunk” information in order to process it. In the Bad Old Days, we chunked info by putting pages into tabfolders. Nowadays we “swipe down” to scroll for more, “swipe left” for next item, etc. But it’s all governed by the limited amount of info we can present at any moment in a tiny little screen.
Side note: The swipe-y mobile interface is triggered by visual cues (not text). As info zips by, we are alert for icons and images that alert us to things that might be of interest. “Hey, there’s a pic of John. I wonder what silly-assed thing he’s saying now…” The user interface is driven by conciseness (triviality) and attractiveness (seduction). But that’s another rant…
From a UI perspective, the presentation challenge is often, “How can you indicate the information-you-can’t-see”?
If the old school tabfolder-chunking style here offends you, then just pretend that the ‘Following’ and ‘Favorites’ sections are appended underneath ‘Conversations and Communiques’. Now it’s one long swipe-able, mobile-friendly page. i.e. “Responsive Design”
Presentation challenge: TMI
“There’s too much information”
The page design is kind of “busy”. No argument there.
Sometimes the subtext of this issue is actually “There’s too much text“. Let’s face it, people don’t want to read… an interactive interface (“I want to focus on the content. Don’t distract me with UI hand-waving.”)
We want concise images and icons to provide directional shorthand and we want helpful bots to “silver platter” one-click solutions for us.
And – I agree – the finished UI should be lean and efficient.
But there are also a few steps before we can get to that. Among the first steps:
1. Articulate the Potential : This early vision thing is a wishlist of all the good stuff we’ve thought of. That’s why the early model is usually so info-busy. But it’s just the first step…
2. Glean to make it Lean : Now we (stakeholders, designers, marketers, tecchies etc.) can use this knowledge and a visual model to collaborate / make informed choices about what’s important, what’s do-able, what has priority, what is usable, and so on. These informed priorities should be reflected in our design (layout, flow, icons, terminology, “how things are organized”, etc).
You often need to have a long list before you can make a useful short list.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but wise design is often based on editing, fine-tuning and ‘hiding’ (selectively revealing) necessary functionality – not adding it.
… of course. Lots more. But we’ll take this process in steps…
Your intranet on steroids
… is sexier than it seems. It assumes that any organization or business wants to “leverage the water cooler”, i.e. affinity among the people in the organization
I must admit, I have a soft spot for intranets. But that’s another rant.
It’s how professionals connect. Really connect.
… and Get Things Done / Collaborate (Don’t overlook that part)
The socialNet has a shot to do it right. Potentially.
© The Communication Studio LLC