Please read this article first: “Not Happy New Year”.
In that article I wrote in 2006, I did an experiment. To prove that “I can never over-state the importance of the display name of an Instant Messenger (IM) in the current age”, I kept my MSN Messenger displayed name unchanged for half year (1/1/2006 to 6/30/2006) as “Jian Shuo Wang – Happy New Year”, and changed it to “Jian Shuo Wang – Not Happy New Year” for another half year (7/1/2006 – 12/31/2006).
At that time, I got many message to urge me to change my display name, and I got some sense of how people react to a person who use MSN Messenger often but doesn’t change the display name for one year!
That is my style – do an experiment, and do it in really long term.
Twitter’s Profile Photo
So you may have guessed the new experiment I conducted later. I used 3 years to complete this experiment. I kept the default Twitter profile photo for 3 years. My assumption was, Twitter will replace MSN Messenger as the key channel for people to connect with other, and twitter’s status will replace the display name of MSN Messenger to be the key way for people to express themselves. Now, it is about 1100 days of this experiment, and I am preparing to wrap up this experiment by the end of April. Here are my conclusions:
It is confirmed that Twitter plays a more important role, at least in my life, and in the lives of most my real life friends, than MSN Messenger. People care about my profile photo more than they cared my display name. Even compared with the year of 2006, the current queries are more (I know it is based of the big user name, since I had less than 150 friends on MSN Messenger, but about 800 followers, and following).
During my observation about @jianshuo mention on Twitter, I discovered that if you don’t have a profle photo on twitter, people will think:
- You SHOULD user your PHOTO, real face photo.
- You are incompetent to change the profile photo.
- You are technically challenged person.
- Surprised that it is possible for someone not to have a profile icon.
- An icon on twitter is just like pant in real world. They are shameful to see others don’t have icon.
- You are too shy (too ugly) to show your face to the world.
The message kept coming this way. Sorry that I ignored most of the message, because it is a social experiment itself.
Finally, when I am going to stop this experiment, I got back to the question behind it. A good product design is not only provide the functionality to allow people to change their profile photo, it designs a social environment that pushes everyone softly to update their profile photo, so everyone’s experience is better. Twitter is, maybe, a service with one of the highest photo completion rate, at least for its active users. I, myself, feel I am pretty stupid to run this experiment for as long as 3 years.