We made a social network where you make your own social netork

During the Computer Utopias course at RISD, Zach and I were inspired by open-ended software-building environments like Hypercard and Smalltalk. We wondered how we might reinvent Hypercard for the modern age, in which the most impactful software we use is mobile and social. We narrowed this idea into a simple problem statement:

How can we build software to let people build their own online communities?

Initial ideation

Initially, we explored an idea of a rich, flexible messaging system, with smart behaviors attached to individual messages. We thought about how we could use such a platform to recreate popular online interactions like ridesharing.
We also explored the idea of discrete "communities" – analogous to Facebook groups – that could be "designed" to have certain characteristics (ephemerality, high locality) and media (video, location data, payments, comments and polls).
We became attached to the idea of a drag-and-drop "card builder" that would allow people creating these groups to define "template cards" that all posts in the community would be based upon – creators would drag-and-drop "fields" for different types of media upon cards.
We tested the flexibility of our platform by attempting to use the building blocks and options it provided to recreate popular services. Throughout this, we continued to iterate on the product's visual language.

Building an app

We eventually settled on a sort of social-network-builder app. Users would create "groups" that would effectively serve as self-contained communities with their own set of constraints – ephemeraity, different media types, etc. Rather than continue to iterate on hypothetical ideas, we chose to actually build a product and see what it felt like to use, and communicate within, the platform.

Our first, rough build of a drag-and-drop "template editor", defining the template of a prototypical post on the "social network" the user is creating.

The final product

We iterated on the interface, functionality and aesthetic of the app for a couple weeks, then released it on the App Store in time for the course's final showing. Zach developed a distinctive brand with bright gradients and a Russian-nesting-doll logo. Reception of the app was positive – despite the novel functionality, users didn't seem overly confused by how to use it. I do think users suffered from a sort of decision paralysis when using the app – in-app communities were "designed" and "templated" up-front at creation time, and couldn't be evolved later – this made it quite difficult to build vibrant communities. Download Stacks for iOS