Photo: eek the cat

The other day I was trying to explain the emotional relationships people have social utilities and other read/write web applications (I’m trying so hard not to say Web 2.0 - Doh!). As I was explaining I realised that they are just like any other relationship in that we’re self-centred even it we pretend we’re not and that we go through the same kind of cycles.

Here are the seven stages I came up with:

1. Searching for The One

You know they’re out there. The perfect partner who will satisfy all your needs. Your current one is okay, but maybe you don’t like their friends. Or perhaps they’re just a bit immature and messy. Something is missing, you feel like you deserve more. You feel like The One for you is out there, somewhere.

2. It Started with a Click

It all seems so innocent at first. You stumble across each other almost by chance. You might pretend you weren’t really searching, but something about the curves of their logo caught your eye. You click and there’s the first lustful spark of the undiscovered - it’s Alpha time. You exchange e-mail addresses. Maybe that’s the end of it, but who knows? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

3. Secret Messages

You’re still faithful to your current love, but somehow they seems a bit dull compared to your new love. You feel bad, but you keep your current relationship going whilst secretly exchanging private messages with the object of your new alpha affection, just in case You’re getting to know each other, discovering new features every day. But they’re not quite ready to commit to a relationship yet, they’re still trying work out their own issues.

4. The First Date

The tension builds until one day they send you that special note you’ve been waiting for. They’ve moved on from their previous situation and they’re ready to Beta. All dressed up in their shiny new Web 2.0 clothes, they’re looking sexy. You decide to make it official, you check yourself in the mirror and dive in.

5. The Flames of Passion

It’s as good as you hoped apart from a few small niggles – the socks left on the bedroom floor, the preponderance of toiletries on the bathroom shelf – but you’re happy to overlook them in your lust. Before you know it you’re messaging every day, hanging out for that latest status update, hanging onto every word of their blog. You just can’t stop thinking about each other and making witty changes to your profile every half an hour, experimenting with new ways of interacting. It’s all so exciting and new.

5. The Approval of Your Friends

By now your friends are wondering where you’ve gone. You don’t spend any time with them anymore. You’re so enamoured by your new beau that you can’t wait to introduce them to your friends. You just know they’re going to love your new love almost as much as you do. You want them to join your little gang of two and be envious of your early adoption of each other. You invite them into your new world, seeking their approval, wanting them to share in your in-jokes.

6. Where Did the Fireworks Go?

The plateau. After a while you find you’re not so interested in every update. In fact, you turn most of them off - everyone needs their privacy. You still have a bit of interaction, maybe once a week on a Friday evening, but it’s not like the excitement and passion of early days. You find you’re already scouring the blogs and news feeds half keeping an eye out for a younger, more attractive replacement.

7. Time to Settle Down or Move On

Maybe you are still charmed by your partner’s beauty and surprises. But perhaps you’re only together because you’re caught in the grind and leaving is more hassle than staying. You reach a stage when you realise you’re either going to settle down and be happy with the relationship, maybe even give birth to a couple of baby applications together, or cut your losses and go, once again, in search of The One.

The Moral of the Story

If you’re developing a social application - or any service or product in fact - the goal is to build a long lasting relationship. Good looks and fantastic features only get you so far. You have to grow with your users and keep the excitement alive by paying attention, often to the small things that make a difference. Of course, you can force them to stay in an unhappy marriage, one where you constantly nag them about how they’re not doing enough. Or you can work hard to keep them falling in love with you over and over again and leave everyone else to become bitter and twisted.

I feel sure this is a fairly male point-of-view here - what have I left out?

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