Media Made Social: Part 3
How tools are defined by their most salient features.
“Don’t Make Me Think”
In the previous post I looked at some of the affordances found in Tik Tok’s design. Affordances matter because users will always follow the path of least resistance. All designs of convenience rely on this fact to communicate their value. If a pair of headphones is foldable — people will fold them and assume they’re meant to be portable. If a suitcase has wheels — people will roll it around the airport. If a thermos has a sealable lid — people will try to store liquids inside. Good design happens when the questions “What can this thing do?” and “What does it feel like this thing can do?” have the same answer.
Continuing my analysis of Tik Tok’s strength as a social network, I want to briefly explore how the content on other social media platforms ends up being fundamentally different from what we find on Tik Tok.
Dress For The Job You Want
I explained how Instagram’s landing page is a populated space, bustling with activity. I compared this space to a crowded party. After users enter this “party”, Instagram gives them two general paths they can follow.
First, the app offers a way to “scan” all of the people at the party. Users can see everyone's previous activities, saved stories, who they follow and what they post. Next, Instagram offers new users the chance to present themselves at this party. “What do you want to share?”
The answer to this question is shaped by the context created on the landing page. By the time users are asked to share, they’ve already seen the crowded room they’re standing in. They can see interactions happening across multiple pieces of content, from a variety of creators. After sharing content, users see their post appear above another post on their main feed, in between other accounts they follow. As small as this interaction is, it defines the entire experience of the app.
Instagram (and Facebook) lets you insert yourself and your content into a larger, pre-existing set of users and the layout constantly calls attention to this fact. It is a deliberate design pattern and it means the question “What do you want to share?” actually reads more like “What do you want to interject?”
To frame this a different way; if a tool lets users speak in a crowded room — people will treat it like a megaphone. It isn’t hard to imagine how this could negatively impact social connectedness.
Covering Familiar Ground
Unlike Instagram, Tik Tok builds its entire experience around our familiarity with mobile video. Instead of presenting users with a ranked list of acquaintances and content creators, Tik Tok simulates what it feels like to receive a video call from a friend. The category of content you encounter on Tik Tok can vary wildly, while the experience remains consistently more intimate than other platforms.
Familiarity is baked into every piece of content because the affordances of the medium affect both viewer and creator simultaneously. All of this is achieved by relying less on the navigation structure of traditional social media and relying more on the experience created by the device itself.
More to come in part 4….