Product Design for Creating Authentic Connection Online
What we’ve learned so far
We live in a world where we’re constantly hearing the promise of online social connection. (Remember those very desperate ads for Facebook Groups?) And just as often, we end up being sorely disappointed by the reality of it.
Reut Schwartz, in an essay about the emotional roller coaster of showing up to a conference, nails the feeling: “I remember signing up. Smiling into my screen, thinking ‘Wow! A place for me, people for me, a moment of belonging in the world. So why not? I’ll show up, I’ll share, I’ll connect, and I’ll just be. But nope, here I am again, an introvert on the sidelines.” (translation mine, from Hebrew)
Looking over the ways I’ve looked for connection online has been enlightening 😬 Here’s the last 5 years at a glance (or a grimace):
- Facebook Groups were a great place to meet, socialize, and learn. But once the company realized they weren’t super profitable, Facebook started to make sure I was going to my feed, seeing tons of ads & junk — when all I really came online for was to ask my local design group for help.
- Linkedin is easy to blast for being boring and cringey. But (spam messages aside) its surprisingly straightforward and non-addictive algorithms made it highly valuable for me in finding clients and meeting interesting professional contacts.
- Instagram only ever gave me performance anxiety.
- Clubhouse started out a fantastic place for making authentic connections and then every audio room became a 3 hour pitch-fest, with a few exceptions.
- Twitter for me equals ‘art twitter’. By only spending time there with certain kinds of artists and their work, I am building real friendships, especially in small audio rooms where my friends introduce me to their friends.
- BeReal and Polywork: shiny and fun, but the jury’s still out.
Looking back today, it’s clear to me that interactions happening in carefully structured audio rooms, rather than out in the open via text from 1 to many, (ie between a publisher and followers) are more likely to lead to satisfying relationships of all types. Social media publishing has its value — let’s not knock it! The trouble is when we confuse it for friendship.
Building towards authentic connection
As we at Groove have been continuously designing and updating our platform for the past couple of years, we’ve had a lot of help from our community members in answering the elusive question of how to foster authentic relationships online. You know the ones — where you can show up in your pajamas, be accepted and understood for who you are. It’s obviously not an easy answer — in fact it’s a classic ‘wicked problem’ — but here’s what we have learned works:
- Designing for interactions where you don’t need to be spending a whole lot of time at once with your eyes on a screen, or attached to your phone. (This is why Grooves only involve a minimal amount of screen time at the start and end.)
- Fostering 1:1 or small-group dynamics synchronously and asynchronously. Are participants mentally / emotionally present for each other while the (short) interaction is happening. Does the interface allow them to listen to one another without distraction? That’s what we’re going for.
- Actively encouraging a positive and supportive culture between people, which includes: showing up to regroup at the end of a Groove (that boost of accountability!), listening when others speak, not talking for too long or oversharing, not selling or pitching to others.
- Being direct and transparent about boundaries regarding these norms, and letting people know about them. It’s hard to support healthy behaviors unless everyone knows what they are, and most of the time when people don’t adhere to positive norms, they’re doing it unintentionally (sometimes because another platform has taught them to behave a certain way).
A case study in pink boxes
On our app, a pink box around your video in video chat means it’s your turn to share your goals. It would just stay there until you pressed the button within the frame to pass the mic to the next person in line to speak. But we had complaints that people felt they didn’t know how long to speak for and that they were having a hard time staying short and sweet. Others were reporting that they felt some people were oversharing and wasting their time, possibly unintentionally.
With that feedback in mind, we designed both the pink box and our “pass the mic” button to slowly transform into a different color over the course of a minute, to add some subtle and socially-minded cues that would let the speaker know if you might be taking up a little too much time, without causing them embarrassment. This has gone a long way towards helping people be considerate of one another’s time and focus.
Another thing we’re learning is that almost nobody wants to be solely defined by their professional qualifications when they meet new people (which is not surprising!). While many online platforms or even communities may use these labels to better define and match people, it creates a pressure to perform that isn’t fun. It’s still to be determined how we’ll building a system that manages to match people up with others they can form authentic connections with — while at the same time not cramming whole human beings into square pegs (or however the analogy goes). We’re up for the challenge, though, and hope that you are too.
We’re now speaking with Groovers about how you would best like to connect or be matched with others based on common interests — drop us a line to share your thoughts on how we should do it.
Looking for more Groovy Content? Check these out:
- Authentic human connection powers our best work (and lives)
- You Don’t Need Coworking, You Need Camaraderie
- Or, start getting sh*t done the fun way at groove.ooo 🕺🏼