Online conversations have maintained a very similar interaction model and format since I started using online chats through AIM (AOL’s now defunct instant messenger for all you younguns) back in the mid 90’s when Westcoast rap was arguably at the top of its game. Each comment is listed in a chronological order with your chats on one side and everyone else’s on the other. Its a very strict, rigid, vertical, and linear format. Its worked to serve its purpose thus far to keep things organized in a conversation that can go on for hours for those who e-date, engaged in a heavy online debate, etc. At the same time, I’ve also had experiences through products that express a need to revamp this utility system because its a core method to help us communicate with one another online. One example I can reference is the popular platform of Facebook. When you see an entry that someone in your social sphere has commented on a discussion, there are times where you want to read about what they had said. You click on the link to take you to the discussion and it displays the most recent comment on the discussion thread instead of the one you were seeking. This is when the command F search function comes in handy but the tough thing is that if it involves a heavy discussion where thousands of comments are listed, you’re required to load comments and search until you’re able to finally track down that comment. Many times the overload of subsequent comments bury the initial comment so far back that all the work eventually deters you from wanting to seek it out. Intermixed in discussion strings are also microconversations that spawn and become their own branch. How could these be highlighted better? Below are some highlighted elements I think could be redesigned and improved in online conversations.
Its difficult to filter through the linear ever expanding format of online social conversations. They run on and on and if you’re interested in one particular comment or a microconversation that expands on its own, its difficult to track it down. Is there anyway these could bubble up or be surfaced to highlight their importance to users?
This needs to be established in a better format to emphasize popular conversations because indenting is simply not enough to distinguish the rich micro-conversations that exist within these vertical-linear strings. Conversations online were initially organized by chronological order which is important but that is the only real variable that the design accommodates to a stronger degree. How can micro-conversations that become popular and involve many people be highlighted and extrapolated from the traditional vertical string?
Market glimpses of inspiration
Apps like Jelly are awesome ways people can incite conversations within their social sphere but also serve as examples that enable conversation format to really express the rich characteristics they possess through their interaction design models. The way you swiftly move through comments and discussions serve as great starting points that we can move forward to improve the way we experience online conversations. Jelly is one example and there are many more out there.
I’ve talked to some companies in the past few months who are trying to create more engaging online platforms through the content outlets they provide but none have really honed in on wanting to improve the experience of absorbing and participating in these discussions. I have some ideas on paper but would be interested to see who finally brings it to fruition holistically within a product.