One of our readings for last night’s philosophy class was a short article by Joshua Porter on social web design titled “Do MySpace users have bad taste?“, and the assignment from that reading was to bring a link to class of the most imaginative MySpace page or YouTube clip–we didn’t have enough time to have a class discussion about it, but just reading Joshua Porter’s blog was very interesting. He argues that although MySpace pages are just plain ugly from a visual aesthetics point of view, their social design is excellent–witness the millions of MySpace users. MySpace makes it possible for anyone to have their own personal web page with even less effort than Blogger (and there’s mighty little effort to a basic Blogspot page) and easily connect up with their friends. YouTube does a similar thing with its promotion of the YouTube community, multiple links to similar video clips, easily shared channels and favourites, and featured ‘director’s videos.
I think that Joshua Porter makes a good distinction between social and visual web design, and while a good visual design helps to keep people on a website, it is the good social design of the page that sent the visitors in the first place. It’s for this reason that something like Snap preview is a significant addition to a blog since it changes the way that ‘your people’ react to your links to other peoples’ pages.
Some argue that it’s the huge success of the iPod that’s resulted in Apple’s current resurgence, and this is a good example of social versus visual design because Apple products are not significantly more appealing now then they were, but the social design of integration (a good thing?) between iMacs, iPods, iTunes, iPhones (etc.) coupled with the initial huge success of the iPod is what attracts customers. There are plenty of cheaper MP3 players out there, but they can only compete with Apple en masse. Porter writes,
Do you think Steve Jobs says at the end of the day: “Well, our stuff is well-designed…who cares how many people use it?” Probably not. While he might not need 80% marketshare to sleep tight, he certainly needs Mac users to continue to buy Macs…there is a threshold of use that Apple needs to stay solvent.
When it’s all said and done, that’s what the modern technology business comes down to–you can’t run a company solely on the basis that your dookin looks better than the competition’s dookin…though that will win you the niche market of aesthetics geeks : )