It may be impossible for user experience on a social network to ever become the core focus as long as advertising plays a part in their business. There’s little chance of advertising ever stopping on Facebook or Twitter because they depend on them for revenue. An alternative to removing advertising might be to split how users use the network into two parts. One part would be for publishing content, while another would be for consuming.
The basic premise is that sometimes users just want to consume media and content, and they want to perform social actions on it like commenting, liking, and sharing, and it’s at these times that advertising (especially ads as content) work. At other times when users want to share photos and other media, ads and the experience created by including ads are disruptive to the publishing process.
Take a look at Day One for how this model might work. Day One’s a beautifully designed journaling application for iOS and the Mac. Thanks to being paid, Day One does not need to rely on advertising. If you are in the mood to write and share, it’s an environment much more conducive to those activities. While I can share to social networks, to see my friends’ content I still need to go out to Facebook. Day One is a personal journaling app after all. An added benefit of using Day One to write and share my posts is that I keep all of my data (Locally or on Dropbox for example).
Another good example would be Path. It’s a free app that more and more of my friends are using as their publishing tool to post to Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and Tumblr. Path provides a beautiful native iPhone experience, and it has an enjoyable posting workflow.
What I’ve begun doing personally is using these native and ad-free tools for publishing content to social networks, and using the social networks’ websites or apps only for consuming and commenting on content.
What would happen if more people paid for and used applications like Day One, or used the Twitter and Facebook integration within the Mac to post? OS X Mountain lion includes Twitter and Facebook integration, but like what I’ve been talking about, it only includes the ability to post and share content to those networks (once again, ad free). Mountain Lion doesn’t include apps that read content from those networks.
Could, or should we get a better deal for generating content for those social networks? Can we get more beautiful and ad free experiences posting content and making those networks worth visiting?
Having a dedicated experience for consuming content could make ads more effective too. When I want to consume content that my friends post or about my interests, ads could enhance my experience through media and content.
Before I started writing this post I asked myself if it’s possible to create a social network dedicated to creating the best user experience. As long as social networks are free for users, they’ll rely on advertisers to support them, and the user experience will always be balanced against other concerns.
Thankfully you don’t have to wait on Twitter or Facebook to do anything to enjoy a better user experience, you just need to start using different tools like the ones I’ve mentioned. The risk is that developer relations with the platforms are unstable, and API policies can change, so there’s a risk involved whenever you use third party software to access Twitter and Facebook.
Worth noting is that a new network, based on a paid membership model is emerging with App.net which I’ve supported in reaching their funding goal of $500,000.