Evaluation of the Adoption of New Features in a Web-Based Social Network

Together with Marc Vontobel’s main advisor Gerald Reif, I successfully advised and supported Marc with his bachelor thesis. He was my first student I advised at all. He reenginered Purple Leaf – a party portal – and investigated the impact of social relations among people with respect to acceptance rate of new features on a web page. At the time he finished with his thesis, the community of Purple Leaf consisted of several thousands of people.
It seems that one rather accepts and adopts a new feature when a friend already adopted it. It seems that the inhibition threshold is much lower due to the fact, that people trust their friends and thus, trust the feature and it added value. Marc did a great job that could not be expected from a Bachelor student, starting from the software engineering skills to the data gathering and complex Social Network Analysis (SNA). But he was already prepared from our precedent seminar on “Trust and Recommendation in Social Networks”.

We were surprised as he delivered not only his thesis but also a complete picture book with fantastic analysis of differenc aspects of his party community. He discovered the core group of party people being on most parties, the latent semantics among different music styles and drinks.

Abstract

Purple Leaf is a social network which offers its member several possibilities to personalize its exclusive events by providing them unique online services. After the size of our platform suddenly increased from 300 initially invited guests to a multiple, we were obliged to completely revise the platform and enlarge our range of services. To embed these new services smoothly into the existing web presence, we fully restructured the application and changed the basis to a modern web framework. After that makeover, we designed five other services which we targeted to increase the customer loyalty and the entertainment value of our platform. Because new features are often not instantly accepted by existing users, we developed an integrated concept for boosting the acceptance of novel functionality. This concept is based on the technology acceptance model which was developed by Davis (1986). The model postulates that the actual use of a new feature is solely based on external factors. On the one hand, there are factors which influence the ‘perceived ease-of-use’ and on the other hand some that have impact on the ‘perceived usefulness’. In order to foster the perceived ease-of-use, we developed several usability concepts and tried to figure out how Web 2.0 features can help to simplify different processes. Beside the creation of intuitive user interfaces and plain procedures, we worked on an elaborated data and application structure which itself also contributed a big part to the simplicity of the new functionality. After we had embedded the services into our Internet portal, we started to analyze the acceptance of one new feature: ‘The most favored Guest’. This service allows every sign up member to define his personal list of favored guests for an upcoming event. Once the selected users are informed about their election, they, in turn, have the chance to define their own list. After a first round of selection, we tried to boost the personal acceptance of our members by providing specific incentives. Beside the active interventions into the process of adoption, we also analyzed a passive phenomenon: Does some kind of peer pressure exist within virtual cliques? If so, there might emerge some interesting changes in common marketing strategies which could narrow down the target audience to some single users of the network. In addition, we visualized some of the encountered situations and putted them together in an illustrated book as supplement to this paper.

Marc Vontobel: “Purple Leaf – Evaluation of the Adoption of New Features in a Web-Based Social Network”, ed. by Gerald Reif, Amancio Bouza, Harald C. Gall, University of Zurich, December 2008. (bachelorsthesis)