Friennuendo is an attempt to add social nuance and avoid social awkwardness when sending a friend request to a newly made acquaintance.
In real life social interaction, friendship is not formed through an explicit request. Rather, it occurs over a gradual period of increased bonding. The implicit nature of friendship allows either party to deescalate from friendship while maintaining face for both parties. Because each friendship gesture has plausible deniability, mutual ignorance is maintained.
In social network sites, because friendship requests are explicit, the potential for social awkwardness exists. People fear sending a friend request and having it rejected due to a misinterpretation of the closeness of the relationship or receiving a friend request and then being forced to decide between explicitly rejecting or uncomfortable accepting the request.
Friennuendo is an experiment in whether some of the social nuance of real world friendship can be brought into the online world in a usable and effective manner.
Friennuendo allows for traditional unilateral requests but also introduces a concept of “mutual requests”. Mutual requests only trigger when both parties have made some move towards friendship and reveal no other information if this is not the case. This way, one person is able to send a mutual request and be secure in the knowledge that the other party will never discover this unless they also reciprocate interest.
The Design Space:
The first iteration of Friennuendo used the metaphor of a line and visibility. By default, both participants would start on the left side of the line and the person to be friended would be on the right side. Users can move in discrete steps across the line and if one user moves to within the visibility range of the other user, a friend request is sent. The first iteration of Friennuendo also included the idea of private areas in which only the owner could access. Private areas allow users to “hide” from unwanted friend requests by always remaining invisible.
The building of this first iteration of Friennuendo illustrated a number of design dimensions which affect the ultimate social semantics. Tweaks in these dimensions allow the system to express different social nuances:
- Discrete vs Continuous: Movement can be either stepwise or continuous. A discrete model allows users to performed fine grained reasoning about “if I move 2 squares and they moves one then…” which would not be possible with a continuous model.
- Number of steps: Altering the size of the strip affects the social nuance of what it means to move forward. At its simplest, requiring only a single move to be visible to the other person is mechanistically identical to the conventional “Add as friend” system. Adding more steps allows for expressing both a wider and different range of social nuances
- Visibility range: Moving within the visibility range reveals your interest but does not mean that friendship is automatic of guaranteed. How close someone needs to get before they are visible also has deep implications on what types of messages can be expressed.
- Private Areas: Private areas provided a buffer against overly aggressive seeking of friend requests and also allowed a user to “hide” by moving their avatar backwards so they could never be visible.
- Unequal Visibility: In the initial design, me seeing you always implied that you can see me but it is also possible to create a model in which my visibility may be greater than yours.
- Single step vs Multi step: The initial design was based on a draggable slider which allowed the user to move multiple steps at a time. This could potentially indicate to the user that, in order to become friends they could skip over the notches and just drag the slider across. Implementing forward and backward buttons suggest to the user that he or she should only take one step at a time without actually limiting the user in his or her actions.
I decided to explore the use of Friennuendo within an online speed dating platform. The results of some preliminary user testing indicated that the main difficulty with using the original implementation was that it did not suggest the right mental model to users. After going through several iterations, we created a prototype that had much better results in testing:
The first iteration of the new slider was conceived with jungles and grassland. Each user would have their own jungle, a portion of the playing field so thick with growth that the other user couldn’t look or step into it. This gave users a private safety area to retreat to. The area between the two jungles would be covered by grassland, with grass thick and high enough to obscure part of the playing field, but with enough visibility for the players to eventually find each other.
The Jungle and Grassland concept proved an excellent metaphor for the functionality of the sliders and the speed dating venue. However, visual representation wasn’t considered appropriate for a dating site, a sentiment echoed by peers and users.
Another design focused on a horseshoe shaped path on which the visibility issue would be solved by adjusting the line of sight as users moved around the curve of the path. Eventually this design was deemed too abstract and too complex to create as a low-fidelity prototype.
The eventual implementation preserved the isometric view from the jungle sketch but made it into a more neutral lawn. Private areas were abandoned in favor of letting users “escape” by moving off screen.
This model was converted into a high fidelity mockup and eventually into a prototype:
Friennuendo is potentially an interesting new form of social interaction which promises to allow for new ways of communication. However, for Friennuendo to be successful, it must be placed within the right context, possess the right mechanics to foster healthy rather than pathological social behavior and be presented in a way such that it’s intuitive and appealing.