From Social Patterns
The user wants a central, public location to display all the relevant content and information about themselves to others – both those they know and those they don’t.
- Use this pattern when your site encourages a lot of user-generated content and you want one place to show a specific user’s contribution.
- Use this pattern when the site encourages relationship building.
- Use this pattern when you want to allow users to look up another user to learn more about them.
- Use this pattern when you want to allow users to express their personality.
- Use this pattern to allow users to share information about themselves to others.
- Use this pattern when you want to present a user’s lifestream (status alerts) from site and/or internet activity.
- Allow the user to customize their display name or provide a nickname option.
- Yahoo! Profiles require a first and last name, but also allow a display name, which can be a handle, a nickname or the users name. It’s their choice. The full name is shared with connections, which then disambiguates who a person may be, especially if their associated image is an icon or an avatar.
- Don’t make the display name the same as the user login. Doing this gives phishers and other nefarious persons half of a users login. You should provide a safe place for people to connect and guarding their login and personal information is critical.
- Allow users to select what items they want to have publicly seen and which they want to keep private or just between “friends”.
- Allow users the opportunity to customize portions of the profile. The profile is their expression of themselves. MySpace profiles are one extreme of this as they allow users to totally visually customize their profiles. Linked In profiles are much more rigid in their customization leaving it to text and an image.
- Don’t force the user to publicly display all their information.
- Collect only the amount of information necessary for meaningful relationships or community activities. Don’t force the user to fill in all fields / data sections in order for the profile to be displayed.
- Allow the user to upload one or more images of themself.
- Provide a view into the profile as a user’s network will see it.
- Provide a view into the profile as the public – not connected – users will see it.
Profile Preferences and Updating
Profile preferences should be readily available to the user who owns the profile. If the user is logged in, present a large/easily findable link to edit the profile.
One of the tough decisions to make is whether or not any elements of the profile are tied to the account and not editable. For example, on Yahoo!’s profile, items presented in the user’s contact card, user name, gender, age and location are optional but are also collected in registration. The two are not connected in order for the Profile to be an expressive reflection of the person.
The data fields selected for the profile should be individually editable with as many elements as possible being pulled in automatically if applicable. Data for the profile is often gathered by presenting a series of questions and then filling out a series of forms and free-text fields.
Collect information for the profile data entries through site activity if possible. Always allow the user to go back and change/edit later but don’t force profile completion if unnecessary to the core site experience.
Use WYSIWYG + lightweight edit links.
Wherever possible, display the profile page as close as possible to what the consumers of the profile will see. The owner of the profile should be able to get an accurate sense of what the consumers of the profile will see without the need to preview the profile.
The differences between the consumer's view and the owner's view are typically limited to additional "Edit" links that point to forms for updating content.
Profiles that include a lot of permissioned content might include permissions indicators for denoting Public vs. Permissioned vs. Private content. Robust profiles might also include controls for inline editing as well as drag and drop handles that appear on hover.
When linking the owner of the profile to his or her profile, load the profile page in Edit mode -- not Preview mode.
Don't overload the profile page with content management options for the content owner.
Do provide a separate "Control Panel" for the owner to manage his or her content.
Don't design Public Profiles to be used by the owners to consume content of them.
Do provide a separate Updates/Status Consumption Environment so the owner of the relationships can keep tabs on the content generated by related people.
Some of the information that may be collected in an account profile is private. As mentioned in the Yahoo! Social API and the Portable Contacts spec, data items like phone numbers, real birthday and address may be collected for the user’s use in services like address books or invitation services where a user actually knows the person viewing the information.
Make sure that information tied to the account, like passwords, password retrieval questions, credit card information and other financial and personal information stays in a private area only accessible to the account holder.
Keep private, account information in an Account area, separated from the Profile display.
Offer the option to make private information public to only those people in the closest circles of connections, like family or close friends.
Sites that revolve around the profile like mySpace and cyWorld encourage profile decorating as part of the personal expression of the profile owner.
To encourage adoption offer easily applied skins and layout options.
Allow advanced users to do more customization like CSS and HTML.
Allow different content modules or applications to be added on an a la carte basis. (show mySpace and Facebook app add on process)
Some sites may automatically create a bare-bones profile for a person and then allow that user to claim ownership the profile which already partially exists.
An unverified or unclaimed profile may exist for a user through several methods (comment contribution, friends invitation, etc.).
Users leaving anonymous comments or other anonymous content, may want to eventually claim ownership of that content to build their reputation as a contributor.
Users may have a skeletal profile made for them when their friends join the site and invite them to participate.
Allow an invited user or owner of anonymous content to easily claim their profile or aggregated content. Dropping an encoded cookie is one way to allow later retrieval of anonymous content.
Verification of a data string (like a verified email address) can pair a pre-made profile with the intended user.
Whatever the technical method for allowing this, make sure it’s easy, unobtrusive and not creepy. A couple of year’s ago, Yahoo released a Profile experiment called Mash, where users could make profiles for their friends and then invite them to come claim theprofile. Many people didn’t understand why there was already content on "their" profile page and why people could edit it besides themselves. It was a fun experiment if you "got it" but confusing and creepy for everyone else.
Users are quite skilled at slicing their identity up depending on the context of interaction—who you are in your family is different than the slice of yourself you present at the office. Online it’s no different.
Consider the context of your experience and cater the profile to that experience. On large networks like Yahoo!, properties like Yahoo! Sports, Local and Answers all have different profiles.
Whenever possible, keep the core user identity information consistent – user name, gender, location – through the use of a central design solution. All other information should be collected or automatically aggregated based on the activities of the site.
Sites like Facebook have addressed the various interests of its users through the addition of applications. Many of these applications are presented as separate tabs in the profile and offer a glimpse into facets of the person.
Select the meaningful data items to your context and disregard the rest, but be consistent in the field labels and how the information is stored. This will allow for future portability by your users and the ability for you to import data from other sources when a user joins. The goal is to let the user bring their data (where applicable) with them around the internet and not force the rebuilding of a profile every time a user signs up for something new.
The type of information collected and presented shapes a picture of the user and sets a tone for your site. Linkedin collects professional information about current and past work experience. Profiles are supplemented by the addition of recommendations from other users and applications from third-party developers.
Facebook has a series of freeform fields but also a robust section of past school attendance. Since Facebook started as a university social network, this is appropriate. They have since expanded their profile to also include work experience and applications from third-party developers.
Networks like Orkut, friendster and mySpace revolve around the profile and cater to a youthful audience so the information collected centers around marital status, types of relationships seeking and interests such as music and video.
Each of these social networks uses specific profile data to give users an idea of the type of social emphasis and community that exists on the site.
As the various entities put forward open standards for the profile and a user’s identity, making a decision about which protocol to adopt becomes increasingly important. Most of the large players in the space have adopted and are participating in the OpenSocial standard. Following this standard, or being compatible with it, will make your user’s data more accessible to them in the long run.
Making a decision to go against the emerging standards might be interesting to you in the short term, but may have negative ramifications in the long run as more and more users of services demand the ability to carry their data back and forth between sites.
A central profile for your service is the hub from which relationships and other activities can revolve. Carefully selecting the data fields that make sense for your site will ensure that the profile has meaningful context to your users. Providing customizing features will encourage personalization and ownership of the profile and the site which in turn supports longer term usage.