Roleplaying Design versus Facebook versus Twitter versus Buzz, eh?

For some reason I was thinking about the differences between Facebook and Twitter but within the scope of designing a roleplaying game. Yea, odd connections I know. That’s how my brain works and why I’m pretty much a scatter brain about things.

When designing or modifying a roleplaying system (for pen-and-paper here like DnD, not computer games), there are two levels. First is designing a game that’s playable, the second level is designing an experience. For example White Wolf’s Vampire games try to model and hence allow the players experience the Vampires’ losing grip on their humanity, via the humanity (WOD1.0) or morality trait. We insert restrictions and limitations into the system to help better focus the player’s experience and fun. Individual GMs and player groups additionally apply their own restrictions (to better focus the story-experience they want to use). Sometimes players grumble but most of the time it’s accepted and even seen as good.

With software and particularly social media websites, we look at features. What features does it have. Facebook has it all: status updates, photos, link sharing, privacy settings (debatable), filtering, “likes”, and so on. Twitter has a very small, strict subset of features: status updates, following, minimal privacy settings… But where Twitter wins out is the experience. And it does this, like in roleplaying game design, by inserting restrictions.

The big thing: 140 characters. Sometimes I use two tweets to say something, but I try to avoid that. If you can’t say it in 140 characters, post it somewhere else and link, or don’t post at all (it’s probably not worth it anyway). By restricting a tweet to 140 characters, you avoid over long and often boring posts but it also improves readership. Most people now skim through headlines or titles of posts in RSS/News Readers… but if the headlines are the posts, aren’t you skimming it by reading the full content?

I also love the way replies work compared to Facebook’s or even traditional commenting systems. You only see replies from people you follow. It allows conversations to generate as people see only people they know engaged in the discussion. I find reading comments from people I don’t know on a Facebook post on someone I only half know, annoying, in fact a bit of disincentive to comment. Or when you see a post from a band or a group and it already has 114 comments… why would I bother when my comment will be lost in the sea of existing comments. But if you feel (not necessarily think) that you’re first to reply, you’ll probably will then and if you see only your friends reply, you may reply or even reply to your friends. It’s restriction created by the interface but helps focus and improve the experience, much like explicit limitations of roleplaying games.

Which is why I think I don’t like Buzz (there goes my scatter brain making links out of no where). Leaving aside the privacy issues of Google Buzz’s launch, the second mistake was importing all your other feeds associated in some way with your Google account. Twitter works because of it’s restrictions, importing it into Buzz, it falls over. You lose all the wonderful reply experiences I describe above and copy over the disincentives of Facebook. It doesn’t even format them very well, long ‘RTs’ are cut off at the end. It’s not as obvious now because Buzz, at least among my circle of contacts, isn’t as busy or full as Facebook yet. Yet Buzz isn’t even as feature rich as Facebook, so it doesn’t even have that going for it. While I don’t mind using a single Google account to manage my Google Analytics for my websites, my email, my Google Reader, etc. importing all that into a single “social media” stream seems a bit creepy because I may not want them all publically associated with one person and there isn’t enough ways to control it. You either import you’re entire website feed, or twitter feed, or not at all. At least with Facebook there are apps that you can use to selectively import website posts and twitter feeds.

And even with what Buzz does import, the layout is strange. Buzz is trying to overlay a traditional but nice and clean interface over interfaces that work because they are non-traditional.

In my simple and uninformed opinion, Buzz should have been part of Google Reader, which already has social features I use (sharing items with friends with comments and likes). It shouldn’t have tried to auto-populate itself by importing all your other feeds or all your email contacts. It should have focused on figuring out how to improve the experience, even by restricting what it does. Shows us our friends in a different way.

Okay, that’s my ramble over for today.

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