Today's post is by Joe Russo, IBM Connections designer:
Ok, just to be a pain, I'm starting with civics lesson. In the United States, there is a process by which bills become law. The House of Representatives vote and if the majority agrees, the bill passes to the Senate. They vote and if majority agrees it goes to the President. He can sign the bill, making it a law, or he can veto it, and it goes back to congress for rehashing...or if it's near the end of the term, he can simply pocket veto it. This allows him to safely do nothing with the bill, neither making it a law or vetoing it...congress has to wait until the next session of congress and go through the whole process again.
It allows the President to not really come right out and say I veto this.
And, my friends, this simple little act of ignorance is one of the main reasons why social software seems to work for people. Friending, connecting, networking, call it what ever, is all based on a few simple principles. You cannot become friends with someone just by your say so, the other person has to agree to be your friend. This is great and when it happens, you appear in each others network for people to see and you get confirmation that indeed, Suzy, accepted your friend request. Zippity-doo-da!
The thing is, this is all good until, say, you try to friend someone like, Mort. Mort really doesn't care for you, but now, he's got this thing from you he has to deal with. He knows you sent it to him, hoping beyond hope, he'd accept your gesture and become your friend. But Mort really is not interested. If social software systems sent out a notification, like when Suzy said yes!, I'll be your friend in this case, Mort would maybe be a lot less willing to say no, after all, he doesn't want a record of his less than warm and fuzzy feelings for you to be recorded, and while he may not love your company, he doesn't want to give you hurt feelings...and he can do this. He can Ignore your request and silently, this allows Mort to get that potential disaster out of his face and you can, with your fleeting memory, blissfully go along and not get any hurt feelings that Mort just doesn't like you.
I point this out because of two things. First and foremost, this simple little function allows social software and it's users to interact without too much concern over upsetting people they know...simply ignoring allows the potentially socially awkward thing to just kind of fade away. Without this, people would be much more apprehensive of social software and would be less likely to engage. Second, and this adds the icing to an already good design - it's about as simple a thing to build, understand, and maintain over time.
Hooray for the pocket veto, and in this case, ignorance is bliss for more than a few.