How to Design for Strong, Weak and Temporary Ties

Google UX researcher Paul Adams (@padday) says that people’s relationships online reflect their relationships offline and fall into three categories: strong ties, weak ties and temporary ties.

Our strong ties are the handful of people in our inner circle, or our circle of trust, and might include close friends and family members. We have most of our online and offline interactions with our strong ties and we turn to them for emotional support. Most people have less than 10 strong ties.

Our weak ties are the wider circle of people we know, but not as well, and might include acquaintances, classmates, colleagues, and friends of friends. We have on and off interactions with our weak ties and often turn to them for information and advise. Most people have less than 150 weak ties.

Our temporary ties are the large number of people we temporarily interact with for a specific reason — to seek information, to complete a task, or because we share an interest or a physical space with them. Paul makes an interesting point about temporary ties being much more common online than offline, because of online communities and use created content.

I like Paul’s distinction between week ties and temporary ties because it highlights the fleeting nature of many of our online interactions. If I read and comment on your blog, I can’t really turn to you for advice or introductions, in the same way I can turn to my best friend’s brother I sometimes hang out with.

Paul has not only classified our online relationships into strong ties, weak ties and temporary ties, but also come up with a set of design considerations for each –

When designing for strong ties:

– Think about their existing means of communication. Phone calls, text messages, email. Strong ties already have established ways to interact, we should support them, and not try and replace them with our own messaging systems.
– Showing more information about the ten closest people is likely to be much more valuable than showing less information about many more people.
– Avoid generic terms such as “Friends”. This will likely lead to over-populating groups and reducing their relevance.
– Suggest connections to people, but communicate the effects of adding new connections.

When designing for weak ties:

– Consider the trade-off between communication and trust. Weak ties may be more knowledgeable about something we’re interested in, but we may trust them less. It may be important to show our other shared ties, or expose their sources of knowledge, so that we can increase the trust between people.
– Make it easy for people to expose their networks to people they trust with that data. This will open up links between weak ties, without compromising user privacy.
– Enable appropriate communication channels between weak ties. It may be better to go through, or highlight, a shared strong tie.

When designing for temporary ties:

– Prioritize a great system for building reputation. Allow people to give feedback to one another.
– Encourage people to expose content that will increase trust in their identity. This could be their real name, a real photo rather than an avatar, or proof of their qualifications.
– Prioritize a great system for building trust between people. This may be highlighting shared connections, shared groups, or shared interests.
– Don’t incentivize people with money, incentivize them to build their reputation.

I build and nurture online communities as CEO of 2020 Social. Read my bio, interview me for a media story, invite me to speak at a conference or ask me how we can help you. E-mail me at [email protected], call me at +91-9999856940, or connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Slideshare.

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