Playful Bent started with three words. These three words became my muses, inspired much of the development of the site, and also acted as a yard-stick to hold up to other ideas that I encountered, to see if they would fit in.
Conversation is perhaps an obvious priority for adult social networking. I’m talking here not just about spoken conversation, but of the general idea of communication being two-way. Conversation is perhaps one of the themes of the Web 2.0 movement in general. Blogs are not just publishing, they are a conversation with our readers. A myspace page is not just a user profile, but a conversation between that user and their friends.
Implementing conversation isn’t terribly hard. You can put a web forum up, and suddenly you have a space for your users to converse. However, building a courtyard, and bringing it to life with a throng of people are two very different exercises. I think that it’s important to make the barrier of entry into the conversation as low as possible. Spammers don’t make this easy, because if you make things too simple, you open the floodgates for spam. There’s some defense in doing things a little differently. It’s worthwhile to spam wordpress comments, because there are millions of wordpress blogs. So far it hasn’t been worthwhile to spam playful bent, but it’s only a matter of time.
As well as making things easy, you need to make them relevant, and integrated. Conversation isn’t a stand alone activity that we regulate to the forum section of our sites. Like the other two of these muses of mine, conversation can be considered in all aspects of the website. If web 2.0 is all about users generating and sharing content, then the process of doing so should resemble a conversation at all times. If you show me a sexy photo, I need to be able to talk to you about it. Not somewhere else, right there on the page. Conversation also separates the adult social sites, which are my particular area of interest, from the adult content delivery sites (yes, I mean porn). However, even porn sites benefit from having strong conversation channels.
The internet is not necessarily about immediate gratification. There’s as much pleasure to be derived from the buildup to something sexy, as in the act itself. Anticipation is my second muse. She’s always just around the corner, making me impatient to catch up, but never so far away that the reward isn’t worth the wait.
Getting anticipation working for you on the web is a tricky business. It can drive users off, and I often struggle with the dillema of scaring off great swathes of new users because they just want to see some nice tits and don’t have the patience for anything else. However, these users are probably not going to enter the conversation anyway, so I figure it doesn’t matter too much. This muse should probably not be listened to all the time, as it may well be worth having some nice tits around the place somewhere for those impatient users to view. However, when designing each interaction between your users and the site, or between two users, anticipation is a valuable principle to try and incorporate.
Partly, it can just mean waiting. Is an erotic story sexier if it’s delivered in installments? Quite possibly. Is a naked person sexier if you see them with their clothes on first? I certainly think so. However, waiting can’t be just “doing nothing” or the users wont do it on your site. There needs to be many pots on the go, and the expectation of plenty more interesting things on the horizon. Non-real-time conversations between users almost always generate anticipation, but I think the challenge is to try and take this principle beyond that, and see how we can apply it to erotic images, to movies, to cam chats, and to anything else we can think of.
I might pretend I don’t play favourites, but Escalation is the muse with a special place in my heart. She’s the patron saint of games of all kinds, as few rewards for winning work well without escalation. She spends most of her time keeping people addicted to World of Warcraft, but when she’s not busy with that, we should enlist her aid in building our sites.
We see escalation in pornography, or at least we do in decent pornography. If they put the money shot at the start, it’d certainly lose something. If I search the web for pictures of naked bums (nothing like a good naked bum to cheer you up), then I might click through photos of one delightful bottom after another until I eventually get bored, due to the lack of escalation.
I can’t think of blanket advice to give on applying escalation, so I’m going to fall back on examples from my own site. If you can think of examples from elsewhere, pop them in the comments.
Playful bent has a strip-shows section, where users upload fifteen photos, and can only see the next photo in someone else’s strip-show by revealing one more of theirs to that person. Exposing photos one at a time creates anticipation, but the escalation only occurs there if the users can be convinced that the concept of a “strip-show” involves the photos getting progressively naughtier. We haven’t had any problems convincing the users of that. There isn’t a special system for it, we just tell them to do it that way, and it seems to work fine.
More pervasive in playful bent, however, is our interaction points system. Every thing you do with another person (thanks to the good lady Conversation) is like ticking something off a checklist. My relationship with another person, for example, can be displayed as a number of these ticks. One tick for watching their stripshow, one tick for doing one of their dares, one tick for writing a story with them, and so on. That lets us measure the escalating relationships between people, and the next trick is to reward them for it.
We haven’t got the reward bit fully licked. The main thing at the moment is that private messaging requires two interaction ticks before you can do it with that person. The good lady Escalation has been whispering in my ear though, and she’s fairly insistent that I try and think of more ways to model these escalating relationships. Perhaps it will be the ability to mark photos as only being viewable by users who have a certain number of ticks with you. Or perhaps, down the track, having a certain number of ticks with me will let you see my webcam, or activate my tele-dildonics device.
This principle of escalation could also be described, at least in the above example, as being about modeling non-binary relationships between people. The myspace way of doing friends is a bit like walking up to everyone and saying “Are you my friend? Yes or No?”. We’re not four year olds, things are fuzzier than that. There is a lot to talk about in this area, and I’m planning some future articles that go into the social networking application non-binary relationships.
So those are my three muses. Conversation, Anticipation and Escalation. What are yours, and most importantly, do they rhyme?