We built the Thinglink private beta to explore how people socialize around objects. For this version we enabled different ways to converse or associate with lifestyle objects. These include:
- photo sharing; users can post photos of their favorite places and things from their desktop or from Flickr
- object identification; users can identify things in their own or other people’s photos
- conversation; users can comment each others photos or posts about interesting products
- expressions of liking or ownership; users can click “I like” or “ I have” when browsing objects in the Thinglink database
- activity streams; users own actions and their followers actions are shown in each user’s personal activity stream
For making the social side of an object visible, we saved things in our database as blueprints, and included a small community section on each things’ page. I this section we showed: user photos of that specific object, the number of people who owned the object, the number of people who liked the object, as well as the number of posts and tweets of the object. This tentative representation of the network of users around an object led us to an idea of a ”thing graph”, a collection of connections that an object can have to its various contexts of manufacture, use and promotion.
1. Blank objects are hard to grasp
Quite soon we noticed that posting about things per se did not get our users excited. Without a connection to a real or an imaginary place, a person, or an idea, objects remained ”blank”, and they did not invite conversation.
2. A shared taste indicates a shared sense of life
On the other hand, we noticed that people are used to expressing their own taste by saying whether they like something or not. The expression of ones taste and lifestyle is interesting, because it creates opportunities for people to connect with someone who thinks similarly. Most active users on the Thinglink private beta who shared an interest in similar objects started developing friendship. They arranged to meet each other, visit each others’ homes, compare collections and exchange things.
A shared taste for everyday objects seemed to be a powerful indicator of a shared sense of life between people. This is because an object is always an outcome of choices made during its design and production, and an object always reveals and reflects the values of its makers. People as consumers are naturally interested in objects that fit their style of living, and brands that share or understand their values, desires and dreams.
3. Connections of a thing serve various kinds of discovery
During the beta phase we also noticed that discovering new interesting things almost always includes other types of discovery. Sometimes things lead to other things, which again lead to places to buy or articles about the designer. Other times things can introduce us other people, and we are thrilled to discover aesthetic soul mates or fellow collectors. Old things can open us new horizons to ourselves, to our family, or to our cultural history. We at Thinglink found it important to support various kinds of discovery, not only commercial.
4. Images are inspiring filters
On Thinglink private beta images invited more comments than posts. The most inspiring images were the ones that had a connection with the uploader: photos from a person's home or summer place, office, favorite place, or outfit. Thinglink beta users also found it interesting to tag and browse screen shots from famous movies (e.g. James Bond and Star Wars).
The identification and linking of things in an image made the Thinglink users filters for other users. When both people and things became points of navigation, we ended up with a multi-layered representation of a thing where facts (product details) and fiction (stories), commerce (places to buy), games (identification contests) and social life (conversation and information from other owners) converged and intertwined. But this was too much to start with. So we rebuilt Thinglink and made it something extremely simple: a tool to link things in an image, and make images interactive.
Back to basics: giving things an identity
Over the spring we built an easy bit.ly-style image-tagging tool where anyone can tag things in an image and link them to where they want. It is built to serve both publishers and photographers of lifestyle magazines as well as designers, crafters, artists or basically anyone who want to show their photos in an interactive format. This is our minimum viable product, and we want to see how it works before we make it any more complicated. You are welcome to try it out and let us know how it works for you!
Here is an example how it works for me: I tagged a photo of my summer sewing room. I'm a great fan of second hands and vintage textiles that I use for decorating spaces. I love sharing information about my projects and of the things that I've set to live together.