Socialstream, a Google-sponsored capstone project


Socialstream is a system where users can seamlessly share, view, and respond to many types of social content across multiple networks. It is the result of a rigorous user-centered design process that involved formal research and evaluation with over 35 participants and weekly critiques from clients and colleagues.

Background Assumption: A Unified Social Network (USN)

One of the original assumptions made when designing Socialstream was that it would be able to draw content from a variety of sources. Socialstream would be based on a unified social network (USN), a single network that provides social data to other sites as a service. A service model allows many social networks to be linked together, letting them share both content and the nature of the relationships of the people who use them. A USN would, in practice, be invisible. All participating sites would simply share information through it. While the centralization of social information would enhance all applications that use it, the USN���s own interface would be very simple, perhaps only focusing on preferences and privacy controls that applied everywhere. Socialstream represents one possible way of accessing the information spread across participating networks.

Description & Benefits

Socialstream emphasizes improving social connections by making it more efficient to communicate with, share with, and view the social content of all the people in a user's online social network. Socialstream provides a compelling user experience because it aggregates content across many different networks so a user has a single location to discover new content and communicate. The goal of Socialstream is to present social information in a way that ties it to the person who posted the information, and not the site from which it came.

Socialstream derives some of its benefits from an underlying USN, and provides a few of its own:

Aggregated Social Content

Presenting all of a person's social content in a single site makes it easier for users to keep up-to-date with their contacts by making the process of finding information takes less effort and time. With Socialstream, users no longer have to jump from site to site just to see if or what their contacts have been up to, since all information is easily accessible from a single location.

Serendipity & Structure

Since users browse information in different ways, Socialstream features two major forms of interaction: a timeline and content overview that provides serendipitous exploration of content, as well as a contact list that provides a structured list of all unread content updates.

Sharing Without Barriers

Socialstream allows users to post content to any participating network. Because of this, it can inherit the ability to handle any type of content: photos, blogs, video, audio, events, and many forms of structured data. By consolidating the controls for publishing in one place, users are free to consider the content of their posts, and only as an afterthought specify the people who should see it and the sites that host it. By consolidating content in one place, Socialstream increases the benefit of commentary and referring posts, and lowers the barriers to participation.

Publisher Feedback

To allow publishers to see the reaction to their posts, Socialstream has interface elements which allow you to see all of the posts that you have made, track recent viewers of your content, and see new comments on your posts. Users no longer have to post information from numerous distinct locations and travel between several sites to see viewers of the content and the comments that have been made.

Users Can Help Each Other

Expanding on the basic ability to invite other users, Socialstream allows members to send out a starter account template pre-populated with specified contacts. Users can join without setting up anything. This is intended both as a way of encouraging others to participate, and help less technical users avoid a complex registration process.



The following scenario provides a glimpse into Socialstream through the eyes of Christine as she uses it to stay up-to-date with his friends and family. Adrian and Mandy will accompany her with insights into how they use particular elements to fulfill their unique needs.

Christine the Communicator

Christine actively keeps up to date with existing connections by viewing their latest posts and publishing her own information for others to read. She may be a member of multiple social networking sites, but not so many that she feels overwhelmed. She rarely meets new people through online social networks; rather she uses online tools to strengthen her current connections. While she likes to see the content his friends post, she prefers to browse through sites only occasionally, looking for content that interests her. It is important for her to be able to use a variety of ways to communicate with his friends and family since they all prefer to be contacted differently. Socialstream supports this.

Mandy the Matriarch

According to her friends and family, Mandy has always been the heart of their groups. Whenever they have any questions about the latest news or events, they always ask Mandy. Although she is very busy, she is willing to take the time and effort to stay up-to-date with the latest information because she knows that most group members struggle to do this. She does not publish her own information very often, but actively reads that of others. With so many friends and family, she needs help keeping in contact with and communicating with everyone.

Adrian the Addict

Adrian is very active on the Internet. She uses online social networking online daily to keep up with her existing contacts, and also to forge new connections. She searches for new social content daily and also publishes information about herself frequently. Even though she likes to read all new content from all of her friends, she is a member of so many sites that it is often tedious to find what her friends have posted. It is also difficult to maintain information about herself since it exists in so many different places. She joined Socialstream so she can do everything she wants in one place.


Socialstream Features

Aggregated Social Content

All your contacts in one place

Aggregation allows users to have access to a more complete representation of their social network, as a benefit of the USN.

“I deleted my profile from Friendster because I couldn't deal with 2 sites. With this I could have consolidated it in this way, but [instead] I grew out of touch with people—I could have kept Friendster and consolidated it. It would have been useful” (U17)

Know when your contacts post new updates

Aggregation lets us focus on people to support the need that users just want to keep up with eachother. An overview of the new content in a user's network lets them find out the people they care about, without having to search to find updates.

These are the “links to most recent posts or something—that's nice, I really like that” (U17, also U28, U32)


Discover what's important with an interactive visualization

The timeline affords exploration and discovery of content that a user might not otherwise see. With the focus on recent updates, users wanted to know how to get to older posts; the timline presents content the context of other posts.

“That works, it's better than a list. I like that. It's more convenient. It would make it easier for me to manage my stuff. You could see when someone didn't post for awhile and when they catch up.” (U11)

“This is a lot more helpful than just seeing your own page – I like that I don't have to go searching for it” (U30)


Browse by contact

The contact list is a structured method of viewing updates, so if a user is interested in a particular person they can navigate directly. Content icons indicate new content and expand to show post titles so a user can idenfity content they want to view.

If I have less time, I can see what I want to read ahead of time. (U19)

I would use the icons to know when I should check someone else's stream. (U11)

“Nice…You can actually see if your friends are online!” (U32)

Sharing Without Barriers

A variety of content types, all from one location.

Socialstream supports different content types for the participating sites, so users can post the type of content that they relate to.

“That's cool. I would use my flickr more if I could deal with everything in one window. I would write in my blogs more equally. I would really use the Share With option, because each of my blogs are for different people. This is the most convenient thing ever.” (U11)

“I would post and broadcast a lot. That's what I'm good for.” (U22)

Supports different levels of sharing

Socialstream lowers barriers to sharing with different levels of sharing. Posts can be marked as favorites, and users can read their friends' favorites as a way to keep up with them. 'Post about' supports the idea of post conversations and trackbacks. Posts can also be sent directly to a contact or commented on.

Favorites I want to read favorites from my friends (U17, U32), and keep my own list of favorites. (U13, U14, U17, U20)

Post About This “A lot of people would want to respond. [Post about this] is a bolder statement, and would be seen easier so it would get more of a response, especially pictures” (U30)

Send to Contact I like to send content directly to people, or have them send content directly to me. (U2, U3, U4, U9)

Publisher Feedback

Track viewers of content and new comments

As a publisher, users want to know what happens with their information. Users can view when their friends view their posts and know about new comments that have been made on their page.

“Oh that's interesting, it shows other people that have read it” (U32)

I want to know when I have new messages or comments (U4, U5, U21)

“I like that, it's a lot easier and not overwhelming—and it lists how many there are” (U30)

Users Can Help Each Other

Create a starter stream

A social network becomes valuable if the people who are important to you are in it. Through invitations, Socialstream supports pre-populating with contacts to help in the setup process so when a friend logs in they already have someone in their network.

I want to be informed about new services and I rely on family members to introduce me to new technologies(U1)

I create accounts for family members so they can see my Snapfish photos (U2)



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