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Web 2.0 Personality Types

There’s a Facebook application called Personal DNA that I came across recently.  It’s like a Myers Briggs personality test.  When I took it, I found my personality was “Encouraging Leader”.  It’s a fortune cookie, but at least the fortune was good for my aspiration set.  

For a long time I was pretty skeptical about these personality tests, but after I took the Myers Briggs test twice and realized what it said about the teams I was involved with, I became more interested.  The first time around, I learned that a person I’d partnered with through more startups and other jobs than anyone else had exactly the same personality type except that he was the “Introvert” and I was the “Extrovert”.  Talk about having each other’s backs!  It was actually perfect.  Because our learning styles were the same, our communication was extremely high bandwidth and very effective.  The risk would be that we could be blind-sided when dealing with people far different from that personality type.

I’ve seen that happen too.  The second time I took the test, it was with an entire executive team.  After, we were presented with a map that showed how everyone fit in relative to one another and relative to the center of mass for the whole team.  I remember my first reaction to it was to say, “Hey, that’s like a seating chart for who everyone sits with at lunch!”  Needless to say, those individuals who were far away on the “seating chart” presented difficulties.  It was harder for us to communicate our ideas to one another and collaborate.

One of the important points they teach you on these personality tests is that there is no “best” personality trait.  They are all effective (its great fun to look up who the famous people are from your type!), but the value is in understanding how to communicate with someone who has different traits than yours.

This got me to thinking about the Web and whether there might not be some sort of “Personality Type Test for Web 2.0 Software”.  Let me give you an example.  Guy Kawasaki recently announced he was going to Twitter.  I’m not a Twitter guy.  I like Instant Messenger-type software because it lets me know when people are online that I may not otherwise reach out to, and because it can be faster than a phone call.  Random tweets having nothing to do with anything of immediate importance seem like noise to me.  In fact, one day I had a blog post opened that had an embedded Scoble Kyte video.  Kyte includes a chat capability, and this thing was on a browser tab that wasn’t my current tab while I worked on something else (I’d planned to read the post shortly).  The constant beeps and squawks were so distracting I finally stopped what I was doing to deal with it.

This brings me to the first of several “Web 2.0 Personality Dimensions” one might define.  Let’s call it your “Interruptability”:

Interrupted | Deferred

If you are the “Interrupted” type, you love multi-tasking.  You crave feeds.  You want data feeding you constantly and driving your day.  The “Deferred” type wants to be more in control of their time.  They want to take time out to focus on things without interruption.

Let’s continue with the Scoble example, because it generated a lot of comments on his site from people who complained they don’t want to have to watch videos to get his messages.  They wanted him to go back to writing.  We’ll call this one “Media Preference”:

Text | Video/Multimedia

I can see the test questions already:  “Do you prefer voicemail or email for quick communications with colleagues?” 

Note that if there is, in fact, a pronounced personality trait here, then Scoble is risking a lot if he plans to focus on more video and do less writing.  I say that because he grew his audience through the medium of text so he has a self-selected audience of text lovers who may or may not like video.  If people tend to polarize, there will be trouble and he’ll have to deal with rebellion and rebalancing his readership towards folks that like the new medium.  OTOH, maybe there’s just a business trend issue, such as ReadWriteWeb talks about in their Will Podcasting Survive post. 

There are a couple of other obvious “Web 2.0 Personality Dimensions” one could posit:

Free Form | Structured

Some sites bring a lot of structure, while others are very free form.  Facebook is much more structured than MySpace, which many have argued is a good thing, particularly for those who want to socially network professionally.  LinkedIn is even more structured than Facebook.  There is a continuum.  I remember when I first came across Dave Winer’s ThinkTank outline processor.  I was enthralled because this is the way I think.  When Lotus shipped a word processor called Manuscript that was totally structured around a very rigid view of outlining and styles, I loved that too.  Eventually I discovered that a lot of people, indeed most people, don’t write by outlining first.  In fact, they may never choose to look at an outline.  Hence Microsoft Word has truly useless outlining functionality.  It’s just good enough to demo, and little more.

What about the desire and tendency to become involved with the information associated with the Social Network?

Watcher | Participator/Shaper

I’ll always remember the Peter Sellers line, “I like to watch”, from the movie Being There, but I digress.  A Watcher is just that.  They prefer to absorb.  One of the things the personality trait tests try to determine is whether you respond immediately and interactively, or whether you want to take the information away and process it for a while.  This category is all about how you want to process the information you receive from the web.  A Watcher is pretty happy with a search engine and perhaps a reader.  A Participator wants to get involved.  Perhaps the involvement is fairly passive: they’d like to tag the information or attach private comments to it for their own use.  Perhaps they keep a book mark on  There are increasingly aggressive ways to get involved however.  Perhaps you will post a comment to this blog post.  Or, slightly more aggressive participation would be to publish your bookmarks.  You may be such an aggressive participator that you write an entire blog post or series of posts about someone else’s presentation.  This can get dicey if the other guy is also an aggressive participator and you disagree, but it’s what makes the Web go round.

Since the primary value of Web 2.0 is collaboration, the Participators play a key role.  With no Participators, there can be no Web 2.0.

How about this one:

Clean Simple UI | Rich Internet Applications

Much has been said about Google’s clean user interface.  Microsoft’s Tafiti goes to the opposite extreme.  Note that the page I linked to for Tafiti belongs to a person who has chosen a blog look and feel that even match’s Tafiti’s scheme pretty well.  They stopped short of calling it a Google-killer, but you do have to ask yourself where you come down on a love or hate of AJAX and Rich Internet Applications.

I could go on pulling these dimensions out of thin air, but my point is really that folks thinking about creating or adopting Web 2.0 in whole or in part should think about whether the audiences they want to collaborate with are likely to prefer one style or another, or whether they need to open all channels of communication to make sure some corner of the Web 2.0 Personality Space doesn’t get disenfranchised.

It almost makes me wonder if being able to “skin” your Social Networking Experience by taking some sort of preference test wouldn’t also be helpful.

This isn’t as far-fetched as you may think.  Savvy marketing and sales people have been using personality traits for a long time to understand how best to reach and influence their customers:

–  How to think about Brands vs Personality Types

–  Know your audience’s Personality Traits

–  Decide whether to show it or tell it in a presentation based on the audience’s traits

–  Here’s a great link on the subject from a social network:  LinkedIn

Why not Web 2.0 interface design too?

If nothing else, a “Web 2.0 Personality Traits” theory explains why such a diversity of Web 2.0 experiences seems to be successful, and it may point the way for how to make future Web 2.0 efforts even more successful.  If Mark Cuban is right that the Web has stabilized, it simply means that there is an offering out there to tickle the full spectrum of personalities.  What remains to Digest the Web 2.0 is to formalize this thinking and understand how to efficiently leverage it.

(Subscript:  I started out life in this business doing UI design.  The design for Borland’s Quattro Pro spreadsheet is one example.  The notebook tab UI for spreadsheets originated with Quattro, and Borland eventually won a substantial sum suing Microsoft over its use in Excel.)

Related Articles

Check out Part 2 of the Web 2.0 Personality Series where we slot existing services into the model.

Part 3 of the Web 2.0 Personality Series tells how to target the various personalities.

Also see how Fred Thompson and Twitter Leverage Web 2.0 Personality Styles.

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