Progressive disclosure, social networking, yada yada

Gah… I’d been talking to a colleague about the idea of progressive disclosure just last week, but I had forgotten the term for it. The concept had somehow stuck in my head as “progressive obligation,” and when I googled for the term I was coming up with zilch. (Or at least, nothing related to HCI and usability.)

I bumped into the correct term this morning while I was reading the article Progressive Trust on Christopher Allen’s A Life With Alacrity blog. I had got to Christopher’s blog index page from his entries on Orkut from earlier this year ([1], [2], [3]), which I had found while I was googling around for some information about Orkut and email.

And the reason for that was that I got my first invitation to Orkut last month. Or maybe it was just the first one to make it through my spam filter. When I signed up, there were two other people who had listed me as friends already. Normally, when you add a friend who isn’t a member of Orkut, the system should send them an email inviting them to join.

But now I’m wondering if the invitation I received was the first one Orkut had sent me at all, because in the last month or so I’ve discovered that its email delivery mechanism is almost entirely random. Will it send a notification 12 hours, 24 hours, or even three days after the fact? Who can tell…with the Mail Server of Mystery!

Speed, or the lack of it, is the main issue I have with Orkut. I have been using it mostly in the evenings (UK time), and the page response times I get are rarely less than half a minute. Guys, even ten seconds is too slow for a usable web interface. Thirty is rubbish, and it’s decidedly un-Google-like. (Like I have the patience to wait around half a minute for a bulletin board posting. Hello NADD! I’ve joined a few Orkut groups, but mostly with the goal of painting my profile with personal interest metadata, rather than for actually participating in the communities.)

The authentication system they use is also flaky. Far too regularly it dumps me out to the “You haven’t used the system for thirty minutes, so we’ve timed out your session; it’s for your own good, you know” screen, even when my last page hit was about two minutes before. That’s usually the point at which I give up.

Because of these factors, for me Orkut is reduced to a collection of glorified home pages. Sure, I can see how all of these people are connected to me, but only within the context of Orkut itself. Friendster, LinkedIn, and all the others are dark to me. It’s like the bad old days when proprietary networks like Compuserve and AOL allowed their members to send email to each other, but not to the outside world. Or like when you couldn’t use MSN Messenger to send a message to someone on AIM. Oh wait…that would be now.

This whole social networking thing is going to be big, but it’s not going to explode until the various services find a way of interoperating. Metcalfe’s Law is in the house, homies, and it’s party time. Your social network shouldn’t be a function of your service provider. You can make people work that way for a while, but eventually the network is going to win.

3 Replies to “Progressive disclosure, social networking, yada yada”

  1. Great article Martin, and I whole heartedly agree. Orkut is incredibly flaky and it does appear to be a collection of people who are just putting up their own homepages.

    I attempted to join a few communities and engage in some real life discussions, particularly ones around SCORM and e-learning. They appeared to be nothing more than students with nothing more to do than paste up the industry definitions.

    In some cases, despite some of the groups having a great many members, no one engaged in any discussion and the group sat idle.

    Also, there was just no way of searching for a group. I mean I am a member of a few e-learning groups (and that was in the titles) a search for e-learning doesn’t even bring up these groups.

    Very poor offering. However, I can see that someday the virtual “networking” will take off, but Orkut is not the system in which to enable it.

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