Since the initial launch of Friendster in 2002 we have seen dozens of new social networks cropping up everywhere. There are the obvious popular choices such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But we don’t often consider some of the newer social networking websites which have launched over the past couple years.
There is a lot to learn by studying the design trends on these websites. That’s why in this article I want to present some of my ideas for popular trends in designing a social network. You must consider alternative interface options which are not found in a typical website. Layout design derives value from constructing a successful and user-friendly approach to using the interface.
Focus on Cleanliness
The best scenario you have is a community of users on your social network interacting with all the different features and modules. These can be videos, photos, chats, whatever. When you focus a design centered around interactive items then users will naturally pick up on them.
When you check out the MySpace homepage there are dozens of small boxes littered around. Much of the network now focuses on musical artists so this is a big piece of the community. You can quickly access the latest news, press releases, and videos regardless of if you’re logged in or not.
But what’s even better is the simplified version of user registration. When you’ve already got a MySpace account chances are good that you understand where to login. But new users landing on the site will not be readily available hoping to register a new account. The sidebar box allows users to register with a username or even directly connect through their Facebook account.
Familiarity has Traction
Myself along with many other designers learned a great deal from the Google+ launch. Keeping together a similar design as their other apps has allowed Google to adapt the interface over a few months time. All the features integrated with Google+ include Buzz, GTalk Chat, Picasa photos, and even Google Video.
People like working with things they’re familiar using already. When designing your interface make sure everything feels intuitive. Changing settings or updating a profile photo should be straightforward with almost no confusion. Although admittedly this is difficult to determine without some type of test audience.
Grab Attention through Media
Alternative forms of web media such as photos and videos are the best way to gather attention. When unsuspecting visitors land on your homepage it should be easy for them to determine your website’s purpose. You can try writing everything out or creating a bulleted list of features – and this will work in some cases.
But consider how natural it feels to watch a quick slideshow or demo video. Two of my favorite examples include the new Foursquare design and Dropbox. Both services are non-traditional social networks and having the video tour will clarify details for those interested.
Notice also how the Foursquare design is actually more than just the video. The arrow on the right-hand side pans through a mini-tour which explains the service and how you can start using their network. You can navigate slides by clicking on the small discs found at the bottom. This is the kind of presentation you want to strive for in explaining your own website.
Pinpoint Conversion Trends
This is actually difficult to setup properly when designing your website for the first time. Conversions are visitors who land on your page and complete an action you’re pushing for them to achieve. This could be signing up to your newsletter, registering a new account, or whatever you deem important.
Tagged is a newer social network launched in late 2004. Since then it has grown into a fairly large community of members from all around the world. Their landing page is significant because you can tell what their goals are: to bring in more users.
The front page is devoted to allowing a potential new user access to either register a new account or connect with an existing Facebook account. The form elements are catchy on the eye and very easy to read. Additionally existing members can easily log in through the top header form, making this layout the perfect template for modern-day social websites.
Offer Non-Member Functionality
You will find people who are hesitant joining any new service. For every early tech adopter there will be 3 or 4 people who just cannot deal with another account to manage online. For these people you want to still give them a memorable experience.
LinkedIn is the perfect example because you can still access their network with ease. The homepage and internal profile pages allow you to search directories for companies or employees. Even without an account you can still see all their basic information and gain access to connect with them after registration. The company is very progressive and uses this to incentivize others to join.
AngelList is another exciting startup which follows similar layout rules. You can search through the different investors and startups to check out their skills, employees, updates, and many other details. All of this can be accomplished without an account and it doesn’t feel as though you’re missing out on key bits of functionality.
There is still a tremendous market for up-and-coming social network communities. The recent IPO of Facebook has garnered a lot of attention and goes to show the perceived value of the Internet. If you have considerations for launching your own social networking it’s worth the effort! Tight-knit communities grow quickly and there’s always room to monetize a good idea.