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The Case for Simplicity

Ah…simplicity. To me, simplicity means showing up on a page where there is a clear focus and purpose.

One of the things we occasionally hear from people is the concern that social networks on Ning are a bit overwhelming with a ton of stuff going on. It’s a fair point, but one that is not inherent to Your Own Social Network for Anything.

Our strong belief is that people should have the freedom to create the exact right social network for them. They should be able to add what they’d like and have as much freedom as possible. That being said, I’d like to make the strong case for simplicity in social networks.

One of the key design goals we had for Your Own Social Network for Anything was that it looked great with just a single feature. While you can add as many features as you’d like to your network, if you just add one, it should be a simple and elegant affair. I think we succeeded.

As you can see with my sample video network above — created with just the options on a free network — I would argue that we’ve achieved this goal. Here’s what I’ve done above:

  • I’ve chosen just the Videos feature from the Features page.
  • I’ve removed the network description and the badge module.
  • I’ve kept members and latest activity in the left column in support of the Videos feature.
  • I’ve edited the Videos feature (from the Edit button on the right of the Videos section) to show 12 videos, the maximum number of videos that can appear on the Main Page of the network.
  • I’ve also decided that I don’t want people to change the appearance of their profile pages, so there is one uniform look across the network (I chose this option from the Privacy & Feature Controls page).

That’s it. I did this all using a standard theme and the point-and-click options that are available to anyone in their network management options on Ning. There’s nothing overwhelming about it.

So, how can you simplify your social network? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Define the goals you have for your social network. Ask yourself: If you can choose only one thing that people will do when they get to your social network, what would that one thing be? (Yes, it can only be one thing.)
  • Once you’re clear on your priorities, remove every single feature that is extraneous to your goal. This can be painful, but stay strong and keep kicking things out of both your Main Page and the network as a whole. When you think you’ve kicked everything out you possibly can, kick out one more thing. Then see if you can live with it. In this example, I removed everything except the Videos feature, but felt the left hand column was a bit too empty. So, I added back in the Members and Latest Activity options.
  • Take My “One-Week Simplicity Challenge”. Once you’ve got the simplest network possible, take my “One-Week Simplicity Challenge” and stick with your choices for a week. Learn every nook and cranny of your flagship feature, then spend the week adding the photos or videos or events that make your social network entirely unique to your goals.

While my One Week Simplicity Challenge won’t be for everyone, I think it’s a great way to figure out your network’s purpose and avoid giving members a dangerous Paradox of Choice.