Loyalty is the most desirable response, but also the hardest to quantify and design for

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com


To remain healthy, a social product needs to establish loyalty, and to mitigate the natural responses to discontent with the state of things. The early adopters will be interested in voicing their opinion, but typically these discussions are only interesting to the early adopters. Giving them a single place to have meta-discussions keeps them happy, and prevents them from disrupting the experience of users who couldn’t care less.

Similarly, creating mechanisms that allow a user to exit without completely abandoning the product are useful. There’s no limit on the number of possible subreddits, stack exchange sites, or wikipedia pages that can be made, so a user can always keep traveling west until they find something that’s worth sticking around to defend.

Loyalty is the most desirable response, but also the hardest to quantify and design for. A number of discussion sites have found success with social currency (such as karma on Slashdot, Reddit, et al), where users can reward each other not only for providing quality content, but for quality responses to the content. This means that it’s not only possible to create a public persona, but to get quantifiable feedback on whether it’s a good public persona. Good is a little subjective, though, so some sites make users specify why they’re rewarding someone – was the comment funny, insightful, or cool? By enumerating the reasons why someone can be rewarded, the creators of the product are describing what sort of content they value.

This social currency has no inherent value, but it is a quantification and reminder of the amount of effort expended on the persona, which makes it harder to leave behind. Yelp goes one step further by throwing parties for elite users, which is a constant and concrete reminder of the value of continued use of the product. Typically speaking, anything that requires effort will engender a certain amount of loyalty from the early adopter, since it represents an investment in their public persona. Higher quality contributions require more effort, which means that the best contributors will also tend to be the most loyal.

At first, a persona is weightless. But as it grows heavy with effort, it pulls at us, drawing us inexorably towards an ideal. Technology has given us a new medium, allowed us to invent personas completely untethered from reality, but it has not made it easier to discard them. This is as it should be. At its best, technology doesn’t just allow us to reinvent ourselves, it brings our aspirations into focus, allowing us to better understand who we are by understanding who we want to be.