A few days ago, I noticed an interesting item on my LinkedIn feed that serves to illustrate one of the instances how non-use may manifest itself in social web services. A message featured in the news feed encouraged me (and likely a large number of others) to congratulate a former colleague for her 5 year work anniversary.
Interactions like these have been increasingly pushed by LinkedIn in recent months, probably in an attempt to increase the interaction among its users. And while the "anniversary" topic is not just a nice conversation starter (to, for instance, get in touch with somebody after a long time) but even potentially relevant information to other users, there is one flaw here: the anniversary is fictional, since the person in question has changed her job already a long time ago. Only, she never updated her LinkedIn profile.
When concept logic collides with the reality of use
What happened is that the concept of this LinkedIn functionality builds upon the assumption of up-to-date data, and therefore of "use" - i.e. the precondition that every LinkedIn user always updates their profile when changing job.
The result of this mismatch - the design and technical implementation of the service assuming users to be more active than they really are - is a piece of "news" that is not news, but fiction.
The limited response to the news item consists of two contacts commenting with an encouragement that the user should maybe consider to update their employment status.
No harm done, but an illustration of non-use issues
It is unlikely that the false news would have any major personal or professional consequences. Too obvious it is for most users knowing the person that she had just not updated her LinkedIn profile, yet. Quite the opposite, it might even be that the incident alone may lead to worthwhile interactions between the user and her contacts - even based on inaccurate data the message might translate into user value.
But this harmless case is a good illustration of one of the many reasons why the consideration of non-use needs its place in interaction design: If a service concept is based on the assumption that a user's data is current enough to use it for auto-generated "news", it requires an assessment of the implications if that is not the case. A user may have stopped using the service or for one reason or the other not have updated their information.
In this particular instance, all that happened was that a few amused co-workers would get a chance to make a pointed comment that it might be about time to update the profile. Yet, the question remains would there be possible workarounds to avoid similar situations - e.g. the auto-creation of "work anniversary" announcements could be limited to people who have worked on their profile data within the last weeks (though obviously this may be in conflict with the aim to use such means to particularly activate otherwise passive users to log in to LinkedIn).
Have you observed similar instances of non-use conflicting with concept logic? I'd be very interested to hear about them below!