Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How Aggregate Displays Change User Behavior

Do aggregete displays, like ratings, affect behavior? ...

"A fascinating study demonstrates how the design of aggregate data plays a critical role in the way people behave on social web sites.

Aggregate displays are everywhere. From the ratings widget at Amazon.com to the most-emailed articles at the New York Times to the number of diggs at Digg.com. They’re a primary element of social design. They not only let people know how their actions relate to others, but they also alter the behavior of those who view them.

Columbia sociology professor Duncan Watts has written the fascinating piece Is Justin Timberlake the product of Cumulative Advantage?, describing a sociology experiment that has huge implications for the display of aggregate data on social web sites. (thankfully, the article isn’t about Justin Timberlake at all. The author doesn’t even mention his name…probably titled by an editor at the Times)

Watt’s study demonstrates how socially influenced we are as we use software and make decisions online. He describes an experiment in which they built two web sites. In one web site they showed a list of songs to users and had the users rate the songs as they listened to them, allowing the users to download the songs if they wanted to. In the other, they also allowed the users to rate and download the songs but they also showed the download numbers to the users. In the second group the users could see how often the songs had been downloaded as they used the site. The difference was in the display: users either saw the aggregate display of downloads (called the social influence group) or they did not (called the independent group)."    (Continued via Bokardo)    [Usability Resources]


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