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  • Writer's pictureTingbin Tang

Homophily - Ideas behind sPetcial App

It is so nature that people tend to social with like-minded people. In psychology, we call it “homophily”, which refers to “the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others”, quoted from Wikipedia. Just like an old saying, birds of a feather flock together. It is so common that people just naturally feel closer with those who are similar to themselves, e.g. shared beliefs, values, hobbies, interest, education, experience, characteristics or even appearance, and so on.

There are so many products and services have been designed based on human’s homophily. In my design class, one of my students, Anna Kang had designed such an app, targeting at those pet lovers, which was a large-sized market. According to her research, it was estimated 48% of U.S. households have at least 1 pet, which was equivalent of 13 million households. My personal feeling is that the actually number should be even much larger than this amount. From my research, the pet-lovers’ market size globally is $130 billion, and for US alone last year people had spent $95.7 billion on their pets. So it is great that she has targeted at a market that is big enough for potential business opportunities.

Targeting at pet-lovers’ homophily, to create a social networking platform and a community for them, to encourage good communication & social interaction, I think it was also a great approach. Since it will be great to build a strong tie, and engage the users. Behind pet social, it was actually the pet-lovers’ social as well. With their passion and love for the pets, it will be much easier to bring people closer, with shared topics, interest, and stories.

In this sense, Anna build personas after her user interview, with the personas representing the real target audience. Then she had also done empathy map exercise, to understand target users, how they feel, what they see, say, hear, and care about, and really understand their pain points. From the empathy map, I saw some common keywords. For example, the stress and anxiety they have from work or living. Trust they are concerning when social networking. Such a sPetcial app may help them to solve trust concern when they see a lovely pet and feel the love the others have towards their pets. It is easy to have resonance and feel comfortable to start a conversation.

Then following up was a scenario map and story board, to help the product team to understand from target users’ questions, actions, step, to generate ideas. In sPetcial’s case, users may want to share, to comment, to vote, may like to find a play-mate for their pets, may like to schedule a dating for their pets, especially sometimes some pet owners may plan to breed. Pet owners may like to hear advised and recommendations from others, and may purchase pet products with highest ratings from other pet-owners.

Use case map help to think of different what stakeholders will do in this app, in each use case, what action they will be taking. In this project, stakeholders may be app users, who will post, view, comment, vote, date and purchase on this app; vendors are also a stakeholder, who may upload pet merchandises, update the stock info, set up the price, answer buyers’ questions and handle customer support. Payment solution providers can be another stakeholder, who will process the payment, verify cardholder info, prevent card fraud, and so on. Fulfillment partners may be another stakeholder, who will receive order information from this app and them arrange logistics.

I also like the interface this student had designed. Not like many other apps, sPetcial has a very innovative interfaces and interactions. The dating/matching is fun. The roulette style for the rating page is also very interesting, so people can easily see each month’s “pet of this month”. Pet owners finally has their own special shopping basket for their pets. With his/her pet’s image on the top, and frequently purchasing items underneath, it is a special basket of their pets’ favorites. The color style is also bright, clean, and energetic. She picked a vivid warm color between orange and red, which is a color for passion and love.

This app is build on top of people’s homophily. Pet-lovers may feel much closer to other pet lovers. Further, if it come to even same type of pet, or even same breed. Even shared interest of same type of pet food, may bring people closer. It solved the trust problem she stated at the beginning of the research. It released the stress and anxiety people has from work and life. It brings both the pet and the people together. Monthly pet voting makes users more engaging. Pet shop also bring a profitable business model to this service around the app.

Aristotle said people “love those who are like themselves” (Aristotle 1934, p. 1371). Plato observed that “similarity begets friendship” (Plato 1968, p. 837). As a product designer or manager, homophily is always something we should care about. The positive relationships between the similarity can help us build a strong and engaging community, which will, in turn, become a solid base for our business.

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