What's So Social about Sign-in?
Just recently I published a new pattern, Sign-in Continuity, to the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library. It could be filed under "Engagement," a category we have internally but that hasn't appeared yet here, but I decided to put it in the "Social" category instead.
The pattern is about making sure that a user's momentum isn't robbed when they want to participate in a community and have to be challenged for their login credentials in order to sign their contribution. The crux of the pattern is to preserve context and make sure the user is inconvenienced as minimally as possible so that the continuity of the experience is preserved.
This raises a legitimate question: What's "social" about sign-in? I have two reasons for classifying this pattern that way.
One is that signing-in is an act of claiming one's identity in a shared space. Identity is an important social pattern "parent" and we have a number of patterns related to identity in the works.
The other is that social sites have evolved some new engagement patterns (some positive, some negative) having to do with invitation, sharing, organic growth, and levels of involvement, and in this context signing in to participate plays a role.
This was, by the way, what we like to call a "peeve-driven" pattern. I was trying to comment on a social object at Yahoo! site. (I won't say which one because the problem has since been fixed.) I was challenged to sign in, which was fine, but once I presented my credentials, I was returned to the site's home page instead of to the comment box I had been working on. Oh noes!
Sometimes, a poor user experience can help us identify an antipattern (in this case, sign-in discontinuity or in the original Latin, participatio interruptus) — and then the antipattern points the way to the positive solution.
I'd also like to mention that my summer intern, Chris Hanrath, completed this pattern and prepared it for publication. Chris also spent a lot of the summer working on the pattern library site redesign that I can't wait to unveil. Stay tuned!