the creep factor

In college I was president of my school’s chapter of Women in Computer Sciences (yeah I know, I was seriously cool). One Halloween we hosted a “creepy talk” where this guy gave a talk to our computer science guys on how not to be creepy. It was often funny and definitely helpful and it really got a great response. Nobody wants to be creepy. The dude who gave the talk was a little creepy himself, but I think that’s part of the charm. He has a website here.

The world is full of creepy people, or perhaps all people are a little creepy. Either way, the Internet seems to bring out the creepy. So whenever there is a product where people meet over the net and need to interact offline with each other, you have to deal with the creep factor. The amount of creepiness varies directly with the level of interaction, exposure, vulnerability, etc.

Tactics to fight the creep factor

1. Transparency of motive: We derive a lot of trust from transparency of motive. This is easy to see with Craigslist. I really want to get rid of that couch because I got a new one, you really want to buy my couch because it’s cheap and you need a couch. I’m willing to give you my address and meet you at my home rather than haul my couch down the stairs myself. Plus really – who would lie about wanting a couch… right?

Where motive is less clear, I think things get dicier. Take, for example, Chatroulette. Even though I don’t have to meet you in “real life,” it just seems creepier, and part of the reason is that there is no clear reason for us to be on Chatroulette. Even if I have a reason to be on Chatroulette, I have no idea what yours is and I fear it might be to show me your junk… creepy.

Even Emily Post (1872-1960), the authority on etiquette has been updated with etiquette advice on things like social media:

2. Etiquette: There are certain social rules – like wearing, and continuing to wear, appropriate clothing in various situations – which help people to trust strangers. Some of our etiquette rules have been around for hundreds of years, but social rules regarding a lot of these online/offline interactions are developing right now (blogs everywhere are trying to get a handle on it). We’re borrowing from interactions we’ve traditionally had, and filling in the gaps with new stuff. People who break the social rules are weirdos, outcasts, and murderers. If you can’t trust them to shake your hand and introduce themselves, what else can you not trust them about?!

3. Information: A little bit of information goes a long way.  We trust people when we know more about them. The better we can relate to and understand the other person, the more we’re pretty sure they aren’t creepy.

When I was in school, we would always play “ice breaker” games. These games would encourage us to interact with one another and divulge information about one another (and have fun?).
OKCupid has this sort of thing going on. Their question system tempts you to answer the questions knowing that if you do you can see other peoples’ answers. Their quizzes give you fun information about yourself (just How Texan Are You) but also then translate the results to various traits about you and share them with potential matches.

4: Numbers: Finally, things are less creepy in groups. We find safety in numbers. If other people are doing it too, it must not be that creepy. Any time you can make the interactions group activities or at least make it seem like everybody is doing it… it’s less creepy. Meetups are less creepy because its a group of people (hopefully) coming together. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a Craigslist transaction alone. And when I do go on dates… those happen in public places where other people can keep an eye on me. Double dating online?

Recap: Steps to be less creepy

We as a society are getting a little more creep-tolerant. Social media and putting more of your life on the Internet is more mainstream than it used to be. The world is getting smaller, and maybe some people are realizing that other people aren’t that different and are not that scary.
However, the creep factor is still a real thing, and if you want users to feel comfortable with your product/website/whatever, it’s a good idea to try to minimize the creepy however you can.
So to recap, how to make your experience a little less creepy:

  • Make it really clear what users are doing with one another
  • Help users get comfortable with one another (provide initial info, profiles, pics, and facilitate initial interactions)
  • Figure out your etiquette and teach new users; work with the social rules
  • Remember there is safety in numbers; leverage whenever/however you can

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