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In my social network, I would like to give each user an option to enter 1

Then throughout the site Whenever the user is shown, with (traditionally) their profile pic -- I would show one random pic of the user's set profile picture. This means that instead of the same picture repeating over and over, you'd get multiple views of that user.

The downside is obvious - loss of consistent view, non-standard, might be confusing.

I'm wondering about the possible benefits - multiple views of the same person, more interesting and more true to the variations of interaction IRL - and if they might be appropriate for certain social networking sites.

Thoughts would be appreciated.

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This would most likely add much more confusion than any benefit it would add, as the current standard for social networks is that there is 1 profile picture for each user that is used everywhere.

However, if you would like to give more views of the user, then you could adopt a system similar to what Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ do where the user has a "banner" or "cover" picture that allows them to express themselves more. enter image description here

Additionally, if your social network allows users to post pictures of themselves, or allows their friends to tag them in pictures, you could show those recent pictures alongside the main profile picture. However, it is important to always use that profile picture to build consistency and familiarity and to prevent confusion.

EDIT: I'm not sure how most users would feel about this, but here's how I view it. Whenever I'm on a social network and trying to find someone, I generally look for their picture rather than their name because it's easier to associate visuals than text. And when someone changes their picture it throws me off for a couple days as I get used to their new picture, and it really bothers me when someone updates their picture often. However, this is just my view. It would probably be a good idea to do some testing with your users to gather feedback on how your own users feel about it, and they could probably given you even more ideas on how to improve it.

Other than that I can't really think of any concrete issues with the idea and testing it with your users will probably give you the best definitive answer :)

  • Thanks! While I agree with your POV in general, the general case is that standards are always (well, eventually) superseded and replaced by innovation. While clearly not every innovation is beneficial, can you help point out concrete issues multiple pics would cause? As long as it appears next to the username itself I think it might not be as confusing. – sellarafaeli Jun 7 '15 at 0:29
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Well, as a matter of fact, if well done, it's a quite good idea. For starters, you should NEVER use a random picture. Instead, let the user create an album of rotating profile pictures to avoid showing unwanted pictures.

With this, you can use some nice tricks to give your site a knack. For example, create a profile picture competition where your users can invite their friends to vote for them, and their friends can sign up looking to earn the price, expanding the network with other friends and so on. Offer some cash price, create some decent voting procedure, as transparent as possible and voila. and just in case you're wondering, people may show their looks or create incredible still motion profiles or add some funny stuff. If you're smart and lucky, you might get some viral promotion as well.

And if you don't want to go the above path, you could simply give the feature as a reward. Or create a beta, and test everything (which you should, anyways) .

Bottom line is: try to innovate. Everybody and his mother would love to create the next Facebook. By copying it, you may get a decent copy of Facebook at most. By definition. Think about this: nobody would have give a cent for a social media site offering to restrict you as much as possible. Yet Twitter did it.

Innovation, personality and distinctive features often surpass "doing the right thing", because to create something, you have to go BEYOND the existing and accepted ways. But be careful: breaking the rules without knowing them first is usually a failure waiting to happen. The secret is to break the rules in the exact point they need to be broken.

In short: don't be afraid of innovation, just don't go "blind" and test as much as you can.

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One profile picture is a fundamental pattern users have come to expect on social sites. You can always create a new pattern however you run the risk of confusing your users.

Our brains process pictures 60,000 times faster than text so you might not be able to depend on the user recognizing the name with a different profile picture each time they visit the site.

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OP wrote:

possible benefits [...] multiple views of the same person, more interesting and more true to the variations of interaction IRL

The profile pics serves for recognising who the user is without reading her full name.

AFK you see people from different angles and in different clothes, moods haircuts and you likely still make the recognition. But AFK you have more in play: Context, location, 3D! Smells and sounds! And they are not half an inch tall or look like their kid, dog, or boat.

To be able to keep the recognition value of a profile picture, maybe you could have their set of pics within a theme, like "me in the same outfit, light and distance, but in different angles" or "my dog on my boat, but in different weather." It could be hard to have them provide, but it would be really cool. But without any theme, you will loose the recognisable effect of using profile pictures as they are switching through out their set of pics.

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