by Mike Carbone & Veronica Lin

What is a meaningful connection and how can we foster those types of connections?

Pluto is an experimental social network that focuses on fostering meaningful connections. This raises two fundamental questions: What is a meaningful connection, and how can we foster them? For this reason, Pluto must identify what features will best accomplish this goal and ultimately create an engaging platform for our users.

Thesis Statement

We believe that creating a social network that prioritizes meaningful connections by giving users a platform with an increased sense of privacy and security, will allow them to maintain stronger online relationships than existing platforms.

Key Findings

The most meaningful online connections are formed around repeated engagement through anything that most closely resembles face-to-face interaction. Choosing who can see your content is a big factor in feeling private when posting, and would foster more sharing. Users do not like thinking that their content might be shared elsewhere or may be “owned” by the company.


Target Audience

Our target market is for all genders 16-80, who live in English-speaking countries, and like to easily share personal content to those that are close to them. For this research, however, we’ll be targeting potential users aged 18-25 on the presumption that young users are crucial to a platform’s success.

Screener Survey

The purpose of a screener survey is to gather study participants whom fit our target audience to perform further research on. The screener survey consisted of 15 high-level questions asking about social media usage habits. We also used this opportunity to validate early assumptions, asking high-level questions about users’ perceptions regarding privacy and their social media connections’ meaningfulness. Lasting four days, the survey garnered 250 responses with some notable results.

  • 3 out of 5 users feel current networks don’t value their privacy
  • 80% use social media to connect with close friends and family
  • 43% of people feel their connections on social media are meaningful

The second survey was meant to further investigate users’ interactions with social media. With 42 responses, this survey was intended to be longer form and included many open-ended questions, hence the much smaller response rate than the screener survey.

  • 9 out of 10 users would consider using a new social network
  • 74% said they don’t want their family to see their interactions on social media
  • 62% of respondents have multiple accounts on the same platform

I Like, I Wish, What If

The purpose of the IL/IW/WI survey was to have a discussion with our target demographic and gauge their feelings about current networks, determining what they like about social networks, what they wish existing social networks had, and “What if” statements to gather ideas. The discussion consisted of 10 potential users and provided key takeaways.

Content is King
Most participants’ favorite aspects of social media derives from the content they see and how they see it.
Communities Count
Many participants are drawn to platforms by being a part of communities.
Smart Moderation
Participants value free speech, but want content to be more heavily moderated.
Connections Matter
Participants wish certain platforms made it easier for them to connect with others.


After conducting the screener survey, 16 participants fit our target demographic perfectly. They were within our age range, were happy to be interviewed further, concerned about privacy and wished they could form more meaningful connections on social media. Conducted over a span of three weeks, the one-on-one interviews provided great insight into our target audience’s feelings.

After reading through the transcripts, we found nine categories to group transcribed interview responses into. Using these 9 categories, we grouped responses in a data sheet to find the most important takeaways.

  • Usage
  • Audience
  • Privacy Concern
  • Meaning
  • Interacting
  • Privacy Control
  • Frequency
  • Sharing
  • Content

After breaking each individual interview down, information was grouped into a conceptually clustered data sheet, where the trends and significant points become clear. Our biggest takeaways from the interviews are…

Interaction Brings Meaning
The most meaningful online connections are formed around repeated engagement through anything that most closely resembles face-to-face interaction.
Audience Targeting
Targeting the audience when posting is a big factor in feeling private when posting, and would foster more sharing.
Content Ownership
Users do not like thinking that their content might be shared elsewhere or may be “owned” by the company. Snapchats “visible screenshot” and “self-destruction” features are a perceived deterrent to this notion, leading many users to view Snapchat as the most private social media platform.

Desirability Survey

To help jumpstart our design process, we created a desirability survey to guide our direction.

  • Appeal
  • Excitement
  • Personal
  • Value
  • Intuitiveness
  • Meaning
  • Security
  • Reliability
  • Structurally
  • Trustworthiness

We tested two different color palettes, one with a gradient and another one with solid colors. We wanted to include cool colors such as the blue that symbolizes trust and warmer colors such as the pink and orange to have more of an inviting feel.

For fonts, we chose these 3 sans-serif, modern ones. These fonts are more straightforward. Of the 3, Quicksand is more decorative, creative and fun.

These are the 3 different prototypes that we made of the home screen. We wanted to focus on the grouping functionality. During our tabletop class time, we were able to talk to many different people, walking them through these prototypes, asking them their thoughts.
The one of the left shows the people in a grid and how the overlapping would be visualized. The one in the middle shows a more segmented view of the groups. The one on the very right is more freeflowing and shows the amount of interaction between the user and their friends.

We found that the free-flowing prototype was overwhelming well received. It’s playful nature drew most people to it.

We realized that this survey was conducted with a very small sample size. Moving forward, we will continually validate our design decisions with different users alongside with conducting more usability tests with our next tabletop event on Friday.


Foster Sharing

Through research, we were able to learn that meaningful connections come from repeated engagement. So, making sharing as easy as possible will make engaging easier.

Emphasize Audience Control

Users feel more private and more comfortable sharing when they know who is seeing their content.

Prioritize Privacy

By focusing on privacy through all aspects of the platform, users will feel more comfortable developing online meaningful connections, and sharing the content that matters most.