Designing for personas

There are two gigantic issues with social media as we have it now.

Like it or not, we have monkey brains. They did not evolve to deal with the scale of information (and misinformation) that they are being exposed to. The monkey brain sees that something has 15,000 re-tweets, and assumes that one of those 15k other monkeys viewed it and vetted it.

The other is that people are getting a firehose of content into a single mental context.

For millennia we used to have physical separation of concerns - you could be in “home” mode when you were with your folks, in “office mode” while at work, and in “social” mode when out with friends. People consumed and interpreted information differently depending on where they were, subconsciously developing personas for each context.

This has nothing to do with professionalism or trust. You could trust a friend from college as much as you do a family member, but you’re unlikely to discuss the same things with both because they don’t have the same shared mental context.

The current social media, hell-bent as it is on associating everything with a single, verified identity, has you bombarded in a single feed with things you know to be true (family pictures), things you implicitly approve of (news about your favorite bands and movies), and a whole host of things that may or may not be true (your crazy uncle’s links). Putting them all in one place, munged together and presented in endless scroll, doesn’t give the brain any time to context-switch and wonder if it should be interpreting them the same way.

We need to bring back social personas.

distributed[c] will not force you to have a single identity. In fact, we will encourage you to create multiple ones, depending on what you want to share, what you want to be thinking of, or what you want to be reading about. Our hope is that, combined with other design choices we are making, this helps create healthier and less-schizophrenic online groups.

Published: 2021-09-14


Ricardo J. Méndez