Helping people plan spontaneous get-togethers with their friends

True social experiences seem to be lost on the current generation of social media. With Wagon, I am building a small-scale social network for spontaneous real-life experiences.

Team size

Individual

Roles

Design, code, strategy

Duration

2017 - ongoing

Emoji's by Apple

What's the plan?

The reason I initially started designing technology was because I believed it had the power to bring people together. On my way towards that goal, I got distracted plenty, but I have now acquired the skills and decided to apply them in building Wagon.

Wagon is short-term activity planning application, born from the belief that technology should be used to create new experiences with the people you care about, not just relive them. Practically, on a psychological level Wagon eliminates the cascading effects of group chats and takes away the implicit pressure of proposing an activity amongst a group of friends. On Wagon it's OK to continuously post what you're up to. A group chat with friends? Not so much.

Early concepts of the application with overly complex and inflexible flows.

Optimized for spontaneous activities

There are lots of scheduling applications out there already. Wagon is moreso intended as a social signal; tell your friends what you're up to, with an implicit invitation to join - it's a bonus if they do. At it's core, Wagon should facilitate spontaneous hangouts with friends, and the interaction and flow of the application should be conductive to that goal. Implementing those interactions is always a risk, because departing from traditional input patterns may confuse some users initially.

Free-form input

Posting an activity should require as little effort as possible, as users don't yet know what the payoff is going to be. Earlier iterations spread this flow out over three screens, but using intelligent and contextual suggestions, Wagon now enables a seamless transition from activity to location input. A friend selection screen was removed entirely; Wagon's smaller scale, curated friend networks should invite everyone by default.

Activity suggestions are augmented with emoji by calculating the Levensthein distance in a predefined dictionary of word-emoji pairs. In preliminary user testing, the surprise element of discovering emojis for whatever a user types in was found incredibly satisfying.

Seamless flow

Wagon retains favorite locations users enter for specific activity types. Besides these user-generated suggestions, relevant locations are fetched using the Foursquare APIs.

Wagon's reliance on close-knit friend networks makes it possible to add in ambiguous locations such as 'my place' and 'school'. Users don't need to specify an address, because their friends know what location is implied.

The time selector allows selection in 15 minute intervals. By default, the time selector snaps to 'right now', and by dragging the handles together, users can define activities without an end time. Traditional time inputs are inherently exist in formal 'scheduling' contexts.

Simulating close ties

There's a lot of social stigma around only inviting specific friends to hang out, which in turn leads to pressure when trying to set up an activity. Although all friends are invited by default, users can anonymously toggle the visibility for the friends they don't want to hang out with.

Furthermore, based on Kraut's theories of social ties, my hypothesis is that users on the receiving end of activity notifications will perceive the updates as personalized invites, but without the pressure of responding. This is intrinsically facilitated by the smaller network of friends users maintain on Wagon, but also by the knowledge of their visibility status on the sender's end.

“People are more likely to respond to tailored messages from close ties - anything you can do to enhance that perception will be valuable”

In conversation with Robert Kraut

"The founding father of social computing", Carnegie Mellon University

Maintaining a feedback loop

More often than not, the planets don't align and you won't be able to join your friends' activities. Even in those instances, the application should provide value and social validation. By implementing reactions, users can respond to their friends activities without joining. These reactions require little effort, come at zero social cost (they're all positive), but deliver high reaffirming rewards and reinforcement.

Reactions are embedded in list items of the activity overview

Initial launch strategy

Getting a social network started is always incredibly challenging due to the chicken and egg problem. I don't think anyone's found a real solution yet, but we can make it a little easier to get started and reduce the time it takes to get friends onto the network.

Wagon stores invites even when users don't have an account yet. This means that invited users will immediately have friend requests as they're joining the platform. Those cards are presented first; once they've worked their way through the pending invites, a button will appear asking them to invite some of their own contacts.